Alarming is an understatement. The Department of Health has recently announced that, as of July 2019, there are already 1,111 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals reported to the HIV/AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome-human immunodeficiency virus) and Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Registry of the Philippines (HARP), a rise of 29% compared with the diagnosed cases (859 individuals) in the same period last year.
In addition, a startling 18% (or 199 individuals) have shown clinical manifestations of advanced HIV infection (Stage 3 or 4) at the time of diagnosis.
According to UN AIDS, the numbers of HIV infection will continue to rise with no apparent real breakthroughs in sight. While there is a steady global decline in HIV cases, the Philippines growth rate has become one of the world’s fastest. From 2010 to 2018, the country saw new HIV infections grow by 203% compared to cases worldwide that declined by at least 18%. Unless the government implements drastic measures, the numbers will surge to 201,000 by 2025.
However, in 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration licensed an anti-retroviral drug seen as a hope to help curb the epidemic. Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP will finally be available in Davao City through the Olympus Society of Davao, Inc (OSDI) and other medical institutions starting December 1, the annual commemoration of World AIDS Day.
OSDI is a Davao-based organization, established on October 2014, that rallies for the protection of human rights, gender equality, reproductive health, and sexuality.
“To put it simply, PrEP is a type of prevention in the form of a pill taken daily to prevent people from acquiring HIV. It is highly effective especially among people at high risk of becoming infected,” said OSDI PrEP coordinator Mark Suico Esber.
As long as it is in the bloodstream, PrEP willl enable the body to resist the virus.
“The risk of getting HIV is much lower, at least by 92%, as long as one takes a pill per day. To get the full efficacy of PrEP, it has to be taken religiously on one’s designated time each day – until one decides to change his unsafe sexual behavior. Some also take it to protect themselves especially if they have a partner who is living with HIV,” he explained.
However, with the guidance of a doctor, one can safely stop or restart taking prep with no negative impact. This is the reason why OSDI has adopted a PrEP program called “Ready, PrEP, Go”.
“Ready is when individuals enrol in the program and undergo counselling. PrEP is when they take necessary tests though our partner laboratory to check on their creatinine. It is also important that one is HIV negative (non reactive). Then, Go is when one is cleared with the tests. Our partner doctors will now prescribe him with PrEP,” said Esber.
Regarding side effects, he said there is very minimal, such as mild nausea, diarrhea and headache but those only appeared in 10% who took the pill. The reactions eventually go away quickly and are non-life threatening.
“That’s why creatinine test is required to check kidney condition. It will be repeated after 3 months of taking PrEP to also monitor one’s condition,” he quipped.
Moreover, when taking PrEP, it is highly recommended to take it in tandem with correct and consistent use of condoms and lubricant because it can only protect the body from HIV but not from sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, syphilis and genital warts.
Since OSDI announced the coming of PreP to Davao on social media, they have been receiving a deluge of inquiries.
“PrEP has been approved for clinical use for years. Unfortunately, it took time for it to be available in the Philippines. Government was initally hesitant due to the possibility of some individuals to abuse it. But at OSDI, we embrace all possibilities for prevention. We even underwent capacity training to enable us to actively participate in its awareness campaign and distribution,” Esber disclosed.
As for the cost, Esber said that it will be sold at OSD at PhP2,400 for the first bottle (30 capsules) inclusive of counseling and laboratory testings. For the succeeding months, it will cost only PhP1,800 per bottle.
PreP is being distributed in the Philippines by Camber Pharmaceuticals Inc, a part of the Hetero Group of companies based in Hyderabad, India. It is also one of the world’s largest manufacturers of anti-retroviral drug, supplying to 4.3 million HIV/AIDS patients worldwide.
“For PrEP to work, it is important for one to have self discipline and to strictly follow the process. PrEP is an additional tool that we can use to continue to enjoy satisfying but most importantly, safw sex. With PrEP, we also take control of our sexual health and wellness,” he concluded.