AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day 2023: Young people account for 21% of AIDS related deaths in the Philippines
Joint press release
Manila, 19 May 2023 – In commemoration of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial on 21 May 2023, UNICEF advocates for the unique needs of adolescents to prevent HIV infection and promote sexual health.
Based on the 2022 Global AIDS Monitoring Report, the Philippines has shown a 327% increase in new infections, and a 401% increase in AIDS related deaths from 2010-2021 across all age groups. According to historical data from 1984 to 2023, young people 15-24 years old account for 21% or 635 of AIDS related deaths in the country. They make up almost 30% of all reported infections in this period, 98% of whom were infected through sexual contact. In the 2022 Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serological Survey, majority of the respondents report that they first had sex at 16 and anal sex at 17 but did not use condoms until the age of 19.
“Adolescence is a unique stage of life which brings great opportunities for growth and development. While children are experiencing this transformation, let’s help build their resilience, skills, and social-emotional competencies required for a healthy and productive adult life,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov says.
The Department of Health has made inroads in HIV and AIDS response with preventive approaches such as PreP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and decentralised HIV testing with self-testing kits. These interventions need to be scaled up quickly to respond to growing demands. While new anti-retroviral medications that improve treatment outcomes and treatment compliance are already adopted by the DOH, persistent procurement and supply issues make it difficult for all People Living with HIV (PLHIV) to gain access.
UNICEF worked hard to push the proxy consent protocol so that young people can get tested without their parent’s consent. Because of this, the number of cases reported to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines among 15–17-year-olds increased by 78% from 2019 to 2023. This means providing unrestricted access to testing provides lifesaving opportunities as they are immediately enrolled to treatment and proper care.
While testing without parents/guardian’s consent has been lowered to 15, other services such as treatment require parents’ consent. This may have hindered other young people living with HIV to seek treatment.
The Philippines’ AIDS medium term plan needs to clearly define how it will address issues of young people in terms of age and development appropriate, gender responsive information and access and uptake of services. UNICEF and UNAIDS are working closely with Committee on Children on HIV and AIDS, Council for the Welfare of Children, and the Philippine National AIDS Council to engage young people in developing a program responsive to their needs.
“At this age with advanced treatment regimen, no one should die from AIDS-related causes. Despite the availability of free access to HIV services including life-saving medicines, many people living with HIV particularly young people are not on treatment or initiated very late. These deaths are unacceptable. We call on the government to test more and treat more. And do it fast by addressing barriers to access HIV services by eliminating stigma and discrimination, institutionalizing comprehensive sexuality education, expanding innovative approaches to deliver HIV services to reach more key populations, increased investments in prevention and social support services, and strong political will to cover the most vulnerable and most stigmatized sectors in society. This commemoration shall serve as a wakeup call that we are not doing enough, and that we must gather our acts together, and continue fighting the HIV epidemic in the country”, UNAIDS Country Director, Dr. Louie Ocampo emphasizes.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.