By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
THE PHILIPPINES was among the countries that have increased public spending on HIV, according to a United Nations (UN) report, which noted that civic groups played key roles in HIV prevention in some Southeast Asian nations amid a coronavirus pandemic.
But the Philippines just like other nations in the Asia-Pacific region, faces mismatch issues in terms of public investment in HIV response, denying key population segments of state support.
UNAIDS said the Philippines, which had 1,054 HIV-positive people as of February, joined Ukraine, South Africa, Indonesia and India on the list of countries that have boosted public spending on HIV.
Botswana, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Tajikistan, Togo and the United Republic of Tanzania were also on the list.
“Regardless of how big or small the prevention spending, spending on key populations is much lower,” said Taoufik Bakkali, UNAIDS regional director for Asia and the Pacific, as the world celebrated World Aids Day on Dec. 1.
“This is a reflection of the inequality of focus of investment and the issue of inefficiency in programming.”
Spending on HIV accounted for 6.7% of total government public expenditure on health in low-income countries, representing 12% of government expenditure on health in eastern and southern Africa, the UN agency said.
Donor funding had helped catalyze increased domestic funding, it said citing higher external HIV funding from the US president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund in 2018 to 2021.
A number of high-income countries were cutting back aid for global health at a time when international solidarity and a surge of funding is most needed, according to the report.
Funding for HIV programs in low- and middle-income countries was $8 billion short in 2021, it said.
“Increasing donor support is vital to getting the AIDS response back on track,” the UNAIDS said in a statement. “Budgets need to prioritize the health and well-being of all people, especially vulnerable populations that are most affected by HIV-related inequalities.”
“Fiscal space for health investments in low- and middle-income countries needs to be expanded, including through substantial debt cancellation and through progressive taxation,” it said. “Ending AIDS is far less expensive than not ending AIDS.”
AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is badly damaged by the virus, according to HIV.gov.
Last year, 650,000 people died of AIDS and 1.5 million more people got infected with HIV, according to the report. Asia and the Pacific region had the world’s second-highest transmission rate.
HIV infections have been rising where they had been falling in the past 10 years, InDepthNews said, citing UNAIDS data.
“Malaysia and the Philippines are among the countries with rising epidemics among key populations,” it said.
UNAIDS said youth-led civic groups in the Philippines played a key role in boosting anti-AIDS measures in the country during the pandemic,
“Youth-led and youth-serving networks of key populations in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries… stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide home delivery of antiretroviral therapy, condoms and psychosocial support, both in person and virtually, to their peers,” it said,
UNAIDS said without the efforts of nongovernment groups to help gay men and men who have sex with men in 2016 to 2020, Ukraine’s HIV incidence in 2021 would have been 44% higher.
Earlier this year, UNAIDS said the AIDS response was in danger, with rising new infections and continuing deaths in many parts of the world. In its latest report, the agency cited inequalities as the underlying reason.
It said legal barriers to the HIV response remained in 39 countries in Asia and the Pacific region.
It cited the refusal of governments to legalize some aspects of sex work as well as the criminalization of same-sex relations in the region.
Possession of a limited amount of drugs for personal use, HIV transmission and exposure as well as nondisclosure of HIV status remained a crime in some countries.
It also noted the restriction of entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.
UNAIDS said social justice and human rights are key to addressing health issues.
The UNAIDS report noted that due to stigma and discrimination, one of three men in Myanmar who have sex with men avoid seeking heathcare, while two of three women who use drugs in Malaysia have an unmet need for reproductive heathcare, the UN agency said..
It added that one of five transgender women in Cambodia have been “thrown out” of a housing in their lifetime.
At least 50 transgender or gender nonbinary people died in the Philippines between 2010 and 2021, according to a 2021 report by The Fuller Project, which focuses on women and gender issues. “But the real death toll is likely much higher.”
Harmful masculinities are discouraging men from seeking care, the UNAIDS said.
“While 80% of women living with HIV were accessing treatment in 2021, only 70% of men were on treatment,” it said. “Increasing gender transformative programming in many parts of the world is key to halting the pandemic. Advancing gender equality will benefit everyone.”