By Ali G. Macabalang
In observance of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, the U.S. Embassy in Manila announced the launch of a new President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)-funded program starting this month.
“Through PEPFAR, the U.S. government has committed more than P875 million ($18.2 million) over two years for U.S.-Philippines bilateral efforts, with implementation by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and Department of Defense,” the embassy said in a statement.
The Philippine Muslim Today, through this writer, regularly receives press statements from the U.S. embassy.
“The PEPFAR program will address the increasing number of people who are living with HIV in the Philippines, which has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region,” the statement said.
It cited a “most recent data” from the DOH-Epidemiology Bureau of the Philippines that purportedly showed that over “110,000 Filipinos are living with HIV in 2020; 37,000 have not been diagnosed, and among those previously diagnosed, at least 18,500 still need to be enrolled in life-saving antiretroviral (ART) therapy.”
This new PEPFAR program will support the Philippine government in reaching the ambitious UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for HIV epidemic control, meaning 95 percent of those infected with HIV know their status, 95 percent of those who know their status receive treatment, and 95 percent of those on treatment achieve viral suppression, the embassy said.
Under this new assistance, USAID will work with the Department of Health and local community organizations to implement activities in Metro Manila (National Capital Region), Central Luzon (Region 3), and Calabarzon (Region 4A), the highest HIV burden areas in the country, where an estimated 63 percent of PLHIV nationwide reside.
USAID will expand the country’s prevention strategy through increased access to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, strengthen HIV testing and case-finding in the post-COVID era, and connect HIV-diagnosed clients with better HIV treatment regimens and retention programs.
“As a friend, partner, and ally of the Filipino people, we remain committed to assisting the Philippine government in addressing this disease so that the country can meet its development objectives in health and progress along its journey to self-reliance,” said USAID Acting Mission Director Patrick Wesner.
The support also comes at a critical time as the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered HIV testing and treatment coverage. Figures from January to June 2020 show a 41 percent year-on-year decline in new HIV diagnoses and a 51 percent decline in ART initiation from 2019. (AGM)