HIV and AIDS
While the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines is still low, the country is one of only seven countries globally where the number of new HIV cases has increased by over 25 per cent from 2001 to 2009. New infections are largely concentrated among key populations with specific risk behaviors, such as unprotected male-to-male sex, transactional sex and intravenous drug use.
Primary prevention of HIV infection for key populations has to start in adolescence mainly because infections now occur at a younger age: 20–29. On average, the initiation to sex and drug use is between 14 and 19 years old.
Further, only five per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women have received antiretroviral medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Very few of those at-risk have taken an HIV test, with the number at zero for those under 18 years.
The UNICEF HIV and AIDS Programme is being implemented in at least three HIV priority areas in the Philippines identified by the government as most disadvantaged. To ensure that efforts can be sustained and scaled up, UNICEF works mainly with local government units (LGUs) and advocates the efficient use of resources as primary agents of service delivery and systems building. To achieve the programme’s overall goal and specific result, the following activities are being implemented:
- Advocate the removal of legal barriers on HIV testing and counseling for those below 18 years old.
- Map out services available to adolescents and pregnant women, and strengthen and expand them.
- Improve the capacity of local social welfare providers to understand the needs of adolescents at increased risk of HIV infection, and to mainstream HIV awareness in their work with them.
- Strengthen HIV-related reporting systems and monitor the quality of services being offered.
- Implement communication for development programmes with at-risk populations, ensuring their participation in developing key messages and strategies. These will raise HIV awareness and reduce its stigma, while enhancing the perception that services are useful, accessible, and affordable.
- Advocate increased investment. Local AIDS councils will be strengthened to advocate for local plans with budget allocations for most at-risk young people and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
UNICEF actively works with stakeholders to stop the spread of HIV, consistent with the Philippine AIDS Medium-Term Plan. The following have been achieved thus far:
National HIV Strategy Framework for Children and Young People
Focusing on prevention, this framework was developed through the Council for the Welfare of Children’s Committee on HIV. Young people at-risk were involved in the development of the framework, which was eventually adopted as part of the national AIDS plan.
Model interventions for young people at increased risk
Together with LGUs, UNICEF implemented targeted and evidence-based behaviour change interventions for young people at-risk. Knowledge on safe practices and risk factors significantly increased after intervention, specifically: HIV risk can be reduced by having sex with only one uninfected partner (86 to 92 per cent), as well as through condom use (67 to 77 per cent). Likewise, the use of condoms increased from 29 to 48 per cent after intervention.
HIV/STI prevention campaign in high schools
In 2009, the Department of Education and UNICEF agreed to conduct an HIV/STI (sexually transmitted infection) prevention campaign for high school students. In 2011, the country’s Catholic religious approved the use of the campaign materials in Catholic high schools, organizations and dioceses. Campaign data supported the education sector’s discussion on the integration of HIV prevention in the school system.
Strategy to address STIs and HIV in pregnancy
UNICEF worked with the Department of Health (DOH) to integrate HIV and STI education in routine antenatal care. UNICEF also supported routine screening of pregnant women for syphilis, and targeted offering of HIV testing to women at-risk. Sustainability is ensured through integration in key DOH policies and the Philippine health insurance program.