From January to July this year, a total of 2,525 cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/ADS) had been recorded in Davao City, according to the Reproductive Health and Wellness Center (RHWC) of the city.  That’s about 360 cases per month or 12 cases per day!

RHWC got the latest data from the Epidemiology Bureau of the regional office of the Department of Health, reports EDGE Davao’s Judiee Vega.

It is not only alarming, but very alarming, indeed. But bear in mind that the figure refers only to those reported to the bureau.  Not included are those cases that are not reported, which might be higher!

On December 4, Davao City will observe the 30th World AIDS Day to help prevent the proliferation of the dreaded disease.  This year’s theme is: “Know your HIV Status: Get Tested, Now Na.”

“Given the statistics, this year’s theme is timely as it aims to solicit the commitment and full support of the people of Davao City and program stakeholders for this commemoration to create impact and ignite people to know their HIV status and under HIV screening without stigma and discrimination, and ensure that those diagnosed with HIV infection are liked to quality care and prevention services,” Davao Today quoted the Davao City AIDS Council.

Although the Philippines is still far behind Thailand in number of cases of Asia, our country is catching up.  In 2008, only two people were diagnosed of having the virus.  Since then, the number Filipinos being infected with HIV surged: 7 in 2011, 13 in 2013, 22 in 2015 and 32 this year.

“Our country has the fastest-growing HIV infection rate in the Asia-Pacific region,” Dr. Louie Mar A. Gangcuangco, an infectious disease researcher whose expertise in HIV field is recognized internationally.  “This is something we should be concerned about.”

Let’s do something now before it’s too late.  “If we’re not vigilant, we just might be a few mutations away from a resurgence of the AIDS virus,” wrote Dr. Rafael Castillo in his weekly column in Philippine Daily Inquirer.

His source of information was Dr. Edsel Salvaña, an infectious disease specialist and molecular epidemiologist.  “He’s one of the few scientists in Asia doing advanced biomolecular or genomic studies to determine the mutation of the virus causing AIDS,” Dr. Castillo wrote.

But the good news is: “With available treatment, many diagnosed HIV+ cases can expect to live an almost normal life – with some precautions, of course,” Dr. Castillo pointed out.

According to Dr. Salvaña, “HIV+ individuals who are under treatment can have their virus load suppressed to such a level that they can safely have sexual relations with their spouses with an almost zero risk of transmitting the virus.”

Another good news: “The cost of maintenance treatment for HIV is cheap.  Actually, the Department of Health (DOH) offers free treatment.  And the cost of medicine is even lower than those for other diseases like chronic lung ailment, heart disease and diabetes,” Dr. Castillo wrote.

Now, on being the epicenter of one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the world, Dr. Salvaña offers this explanation: “On the surface, it seems as if we are just a late bloomer.  However, the reasons for our current epidemic are much more complicated and many foreshadow a global resurgence of HIV.”

HIV is present in all body fluids of an infected person but is concentrated in blood, semen and vaginal fluids.  Virtually, it is present in all body tissues and organs including the brain and spinal cord.  It can be found in tears, saliva and breast milk although these last three are not considered significant routes of infection.

A DOH report cited sexual intercourse as the leading mode of transmission in the Philippines.  Men having sex with men through anal intercourse, where the penis penetrates the anus of the other person, is currently the leading mode of transmission. Vaginal intercourse, where the penis penetrates the vagina, is the second most common route of transmission.

“A single sexual encounter can be sufficient to transmit HIV,” wrote Dr. John Hubley, author of The AIDS Handbook.   “Although the risk from an individual sexual act may be low, the more times a person has sex, the greater the likelihood that transmission will take place.  Women appear to be more at risk than men from heterosexual sex.  The transmission of HIV from man to woman is believed to take place more easily than from woman to man.”

Injection or infusion of contaminated blood, as occurs with blood transfusions, the sharing of needles or syringes, or an accidental prick from an HIV-contaminated needle is another mode of HIV transmission.

Transfer of HIV is also possible from an infected mother to a child before birth, during birth, or after birth through the mother’s milk.  “A few children contract HIV infection through sexual abuse,” informs The Merck Manual of Medical Information.

“HIV is a virus that destroys the immune system,” says Dr. Gangcuangco, a Balik Scientist who came to attend the opening of the National Science and Technology Week in Davao City recently.  “After about 5 years of not knowing that you are infected, if you engage in unprotected sex, the infected person can unwittingly transmit the virus, infecting more people.”

Currently, there is no cure known for HIV but the virus can be controlled with proper medications called antiretrovirals.  “These antiretrovirals are provided for free by the government,” Dr. Gangcuangco says.  “With healthy lifestyle and if antiretrovirals are taken every day, people with HIV can have ‘undetectable’ virus in their blood.”

By “undetectable,” he means that the virus is still in the body but in very low amounts that it cannot be detected by the machine.

According to Dr. Gangcuangco, there are two benefits of taking medications for HIV.  First, it prevents HIV from destroying the immune system of someone with the virus. Second, it prevents the spread of HIV because the virus will also be very, very low in the semen and other body fluids.

Again, to know if you have the virus, you have to undergo HIV testing.