Intended for healthcare professionals


Philippines records highest number of new HIV cases since 1984

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 18 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2671
  1. Jane Parry
  1. 1Hong Kong

The Philippines has reported its highest number of new cases of HIV in a single month since 1984, with 667 new cases reported in March. This represents a 34% increase over the same period last year.

Sex without condoms among men who have sex with men was one of the key drivers of the epidemic, particularly in metropolitan Manila, where it accounted for 44% of the newly diagnosed cases.

Most of the cases (630) were attributed to sexual transmission, and 85% were among men who have sex with men. Of the new cases 96% were among males with a median age of 28 years (range 2-61). Use of contaminated needles by people who inject drugs accounted for 34 cases, and three were due to mother to child transmission.

“The easiest way to prevent HIV among men who have sex with men is effective condom promotion and distribution,” David Wilson, head of the Disease Modelling and Finance Programme at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales, told The BMJ. “Another driver is very low rates of testing and subsequent treatment, which is low across the Asia region, with many cases being detected at a late stage.”

The Philippine Department of Health said that uptake of free HIV testing and counselling services available through government social hygiene clinics had been too low and declared 11-15 May to be National HIV Testing Week. “I strongly urge everyone to avail [themselves] of the free HIV testing and counselling in all our social hygiene clinics because HIV afflicts anyone irrespective of social status,” Janette P Loreto-Garin, health secretary, said in a press statement.

Research by Wilson and Anna Charisse Farr published in 2010 showed that although the Philippines had what was characterised as a “low and slow” HIV epidemic, it was in fact teetering on the verge of an expanding epidemic, due to the lowest rate of condom use in Asia, rising rates of casual sex, unsafe injection drug use, and a large population of overseas workers.1 2

“It’s unfortunate how the HIV epidemic has continued in the Philippines,” Wilson said. “There needs to be strategic planning by the Department of Health and a very well-functioning prevention programme run through non-governmental organisations that can reach out to key affected groups and HIV geographical hotspots. Mathematical models show that without prevention and treatment the epidemic is likely to expand.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2671


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