Illustration by Rey Ian M. Cruz A UST Hospital official has debunked reports that the number of people infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has reached “epidemic” level.

Dr. Antonia Raymundo, chairman of the hospital’s department of clinical pathology, said an increase in the number of HIV cases in the country was not enough to say there is an epidemic.

“Even if there has been an increase, [it] is not high enough to consider HIV infection as an epidemic,” Raymundo said. “A disease should have affected many people and be widespread in order to be considered an epidemic.”

Dr. Edcel Salvana, head of the Philippine General Hospital infectious diseases department and a University of the Philippines medicine professor, had said HIV in the country was at the “epidemic level,” adding that the Department of Health (DOH) is recording two HIV cases a day.

The Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serological Surveillance also reported that prevalence of HIV cases has gone up to 530 people per 100,000 population from 99 per 100,000 in 2007. High-risk individuals include female sex workers, sexually active homosexual men, call center agents, and drug users who share and re-use needles.

But according to Raymundo, the proportion of HIV infected people with the population was not “high enough” to be considered widespread. She however said the health department has the prerogative to declare an epidemic.

“However, in the end, it is the DOH who will declare if HIV officially becomes an epidemic, because all institutions, including ours, submit our data [on admitted patients’ diseases] to them,” she said.

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DOH did not issue a statement when the UP study’s results were released last December, but then Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the HIV threat is “real” and a cause of concern. DOH recorded a total of 4,424 HIV cases last year, a 23-percent increase from 2008’s total of 3,589 cases.

Decrease

Duque said that while the number of new HIV infections has decreased to 17 percent globally, cases in the Philippines have increased by 334 percent from 2001.

“[But] the number of infected persons in the Philippines is growing, and the infection is spreading fast in most-at-risk populations. We have to stop the spread and gain control of the situation,” Duque said.

In UST Hospital, Raymundo said there was a little increase in the number of HIV positive patients.

“We did experience an increase on HIV positive patients, but it was only around three to four patients,” Raymundo said. She declined to provide any information about the HIV-positive individuals to protect their identities.

Dr. Remedios Coronel of the hospital’s department of infectious diseases said UST Hospital does not normally handle HIV cases.

“We usually don’t get HIV positive patients for admission,” Coronel said. “They are usually referred to institutions that specialize in infectious diseases like the San Lazaro Hospital.”

But Coronel said UST Hospital offers enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test, a screening for HIV infection, to patients that have HIV symptoms.

“If the ELISA test turns out positive, the patients are referred to the sexually transmitted diseases (STD)/AIDS cooperative central laboratory for Western Blot, the confirmatory test for HIV infections.” Raymundo said. “Only when the patient turns out positive for the Western Blot test can it be said that the patient is positive for HIV infection.”

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HIV is the virus that causes the acquired immunodeficiency disease syndrome (AIDS), a condition wherein the person’s immune system is weakened, causing various diseases to infect the human body. Julienne Krizia V. Roman

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