HIV Awareness in the Philippines: Facts and Misconceptions

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Update Date 29/05/2020 . 4 mins read
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HIV misconceptions in the Philippines still run rampant. Why is this exactly? As with many other diseases, misconceptions about HIV and AIDS stem from a lack of awareness about the condition. 

To better dispel HIV misconceptions in the Philippines, we must establish facts about the condition, rooted in years of research since its first reported cases in the 1980s. 

To understand the facts behind HIV misconceptions in the Philippines, we must look to its origins. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) works by weakening the immune system to make people more susceptible to infections and some types of cancer. 

The AIDS Institute, a US-based non-profit advocating policy actions against the disease, attributes human immunodeficiency virus’s (HIV) origins to West Africa, where people might have contracted it from chimpanzees they hunt for meat. In 1983, it was discovered that HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. 

The most advanced stage of HIV is AIDS, which can take up to 15 years if not treated and depending on the individual. At this point, the virus has significantly compromised a person’s immune system that it can no longer fight off diseases.

Transmission and symptoms

The WHO said people may get HIV from exchanging body fluids such as blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions from an infected person. An HIV positive mother may transmit the virus to her child during pregnancy and delivery. 

However, HIV cannot be transmitted through casual physical contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water. HIV positive people are most infectious during the first few months they contract the virus. 

The WHO said that those infected may not feel anything in the first few weeks or experience conditions similar to influenza, rashes or sore throat. Many may only find out they got HIV as the virus progressively ravages the immune system causing signs to manifest such as swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fever, diarrhoea and cough. 

Untreated, HIV may cause further deterioration and lead to more severe illnesses such as tuberculosis (TB), cryptococcal meningitis, severe bacterial infections, and cancers such as lymphomas and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Untreated and undiagnosed HIV may lead to AIDS an advanced stage of HIV causing to develop cancers(e.g Kaposi Sarcoma, Lymphomas) and higher risk to be infected to opportunistic infection (e.g TB, Cryptococcal meningitis, Candidiasis)

Prevention and treatment

The United States Department of Health and Human Services states that since HIV is only transmitted by certain body fluids, it advises against having sex without a condom and other risky sexual behaviors such as having multiple partners as well as sharing injection equipment. 

It noted that there is now low risk in the US of getting the disease from donated blood and organs due to the strict screenings being implemented.

Women who are positive for HIV and are pregnant are provided antiretroviral therapy (ART), which works by reducing the levels of virus in a person’s body thus lowering the risk of transmission. ART is the primary treatment method for HIV. It, however, does not completely eliminate the virus.

Global and Philippine situations

The WHO, however, said knowledge about the disease has significantly improved since its discovery. The medical community has effective tools and approaches developed for prevention, diagnosis that enable its management and allow those infected to live long and healthy lives. 

The advances are due to the huge amounts of time and resources poured by governments and private institutions worldwide to find solutions.  From 2000 to 2015 alone, a study in medical journal The Lancet estimated that $562 billion dollars have been spent on HIV/AIDs.

The WHO, however, warns that HIV remains a significant one of the biggest public health challenges across the globe causing over 32 million deaths so far.  In 2018, the WHO estimated that 37.9 million all over the world are living with HIV of which two-thirds are in the African region. 

The WHO HIV Profile for the Philippines showed that an estimated 77,000 people in the country have the virus. Of these, 59,000 or 76% are aware they are infected, while 33,600 or 44% are receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART).  In 1998, the government passed the AIDS Prevention and Control Act, with raising public awareness about HIV and AIDS among its stated objectives.

AIDS and HIV misconceptions in the Philippines

The Philippines National Demographic and Health Survey which shows prevailing knowledge and attitudes about health issues in the country provides a good measure of the success of this law as HIV and AIDS  are among the key topics monitored.  

The latest survey published in 2018 was conducted nationally, involving women from close to 28,000 households. It shed light on public awareness about HIV and aids:

  • The survey showed that nine in 10 respondents said they have heard about HIV and AIDS.
  • Two-thirds or 66% are aware that using condoms prevent HIV transmission
  • 84% know that limiting sexual intercourse to one uninfected partner without other partners  reduces HIV risks. 
  • Six in 10 know of both of these HIV prevention methods, an improvement from the 45% in 2003.
  • The study further noted that  knowledge about HIV is better among respondents with higher educational attainment and wealth.  
  • A quarter of respondents without education are unaware about HIV prevention methods, while there is 74% awareness among college educated people.
  • The study further found that there seven in 10 respondents had discriminatory attitudes against HIV-positive people. 
  • 53%  said HIV positive children should study in separate schools from those who do not have it.
  • 61%  said they would not buy fresh vegetables from a shop owner with AIDS. 

Key Takeaways

A 2010 study on the National Library of Medicine, meanwhile, noted that among the AIDS and HIV misconceptions are that prayer, antibiotics and keeping fit will protect against the disease, that it can be prevented by a cocktail of drinks, douching with detergents, interrupting sex and washing the penis. It also noted that six in 10 believed then that there is already a cure. Among the ongoing questions is whether the virus can be contracted from kissing, oral sex or from public restrooms. 

Some believe HIV always progresses to AIDs, and that being diagnosed with HIV is somewhat of a death sentence. But decades of research has shown that these are simply myths borne by the need for better public health education.

These attitudes show that awareness about the disease can still be improved to dispel HIV misconceptions in the Philippines. The Philippines’ Department of Health is doing their part to educate the public, there is still a great need to consistently debunk myths and stick to the facts. 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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