Health - New HIV Strain In Philippines
A new, aggressive, and drug-resistant strain of HIV is pushing infection rates up in the Philippines, threatening to spark a new epidemic.
It's happening even as the rest of the world charts a decline in HIV infections. The Philippines has the fastest growing HIV rate in the Asia-Pacific region, increasing by 140 percent from 2010 to 2016, according to the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) and UNAIDS, the United Nations agency on HIV and AIDS.
The DOH says there were 50,725 reported cases of HIV in the Philippines as of December 2017. If things keep going the way they are, the agency forecasts the total number of HIV cases in the country to reach 142,400 by 2022.
The villain is a new strain - the HIV AE subtype.
"Most HIV infections in the Western world are of subtype B," explains Dr. Edsel Salvana, Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines. "Most of the research that we have on HIV is also on subtype B though it accounts for only about 12 percent of all global HIV infections," the Doctor told Germany's DW News.
But: "We have discovered that the explosion of HIV in the Philippines is due to a shift from the Western subtype B to a more aggressive HIV subtype AE" he containued. "Those infected by the HIV subtype AE are younger, sicker patients who are more resistant to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. We are also seeing a faster progression to AIDS under subtype AE."
Dr. Salvana says several things have to happen to reverse the trend, but the government of President Rodrigo Duterte isn't moving very quickly. More money needs to be available to more scientists willing to do research work on HIV subtype AE. The law needs to be amended to lower the age of HIV testing without parental consent to 18. And condom use needs to be encouraged, not discouraged as official policy of the influential Roman Catholic Church or belittled as in a recent foul-mouthed tirade by President Duterte.