A lifeline for thousands of Filipinos who are affected by HIV and AIDS has just been cut. Last week, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Philippines’ biggest funder of the Philippines’ HIV and AIDS programs, announced that it decided to cancel its next round of funding.
This is an alarming development for the Philippines, one of the only seven countries worldwide that is experiencing an accelerating HIV epidemic. The latest HIV and AIDS Registry (September 2011) recorded 8 new HIV infections a day, a steep increase from the one case a day that was reported four years ago.
The immediate implication of this unprecedented cancellation is that half of existing HIV prevention services and 60% of life-saving treatment, care and support programs for Filipinos living with HIV and AIDS would have no funding in the coming years. Just when thousands of Filipinos are at greater risk of HIV infection, the Philippines is expected to cut down its HIV and AIDS interventions.
But perhaps the current situation reflects a bigger crisis. Prior to the Global Fund cancellation, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who chairs the Philippine National AIDS Council, dismissed the concentrated HIV epidemic that has been noted by his own department’s epidemiological unit and claimed, contrary to what the evidence is saying, that the country has a good HIV program.
When pressed by legislators during the DOH budget hearing why the government is not increasing its budget on HIV and AIDS, Sec. Ona was quick to state that Global Fund is big and that it will always be there. He said that the current allocation to address the epidemic, an insufficient amount that has gone down from P81M in 2009 to P65M annually beginning 2010, is already enough.
He likewise dismissed the concentrated epidemic that is happening among men who have sex with men and transgenders, sex workers and drug users, which indicate a complete rejection of existing evidence that curbing the HIV epidemic among these key populations would actually prevent an HIV epidemic in the general population.
With the Global Fund cut and the apparent denialism of Sec. Ona, the country is courting an HIV crisis.
While the rest of the stakeholders are already mobilizing to address the epidemic, the political leadership of the country response is dragging its feet and pretending that there’s no problem. There is a momentum for community mobilization that could be harnessed by the government, but these initiatives could only do so much without the commitment of the political leadership to fulfill - and fulfill with religious fervor - its mandate to protect and promote the welfare of its people.
If the government wants to avert a full-blown HIV epidemic, then it must address the crisis of political will that Sec. Ona represents. We call on President Noynoy Aquino to keep in line his alter ego and to remind him of the promise of the Aquino administration to the Filipino people - that we, the citizens, are the government’s boss, and that under this administration, no one would be left behind.
We urge President Aquino to immediately set up a Presidential Task Force on HIV and AIDS that would address the gaps in the response, initiate reforms in the Philippine National AIDS Council, and mobilize local governments to perform their mandate in delivering crucial HIV and AIDS services. We also call on the President to set up an emergency fund to immediately scale up prevention, treatment, care and support services and forestall an HIV crisis.
The Network to Stop AIDS in the Philippines (NSAP) is composed of HIV and AIDS civil society organizations all over the Philippines. Its member-organizations include Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), Alagad Mindanao, B-Change Foundation, Babae Plus, Cebu Plus, CrossBreeds Plus, Gayon, Health Action Information Network (HAIN), Institute for Social Studies and Action (ISSA), National Federation of Filipinos Living with HIV and AIDS (NaFFWA), Positive Action Foundation Philippines, Inc. (PAFPI), Pinoy Plus, The Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare (PNGOC), Red Whistle, Sisters Plus, Take the Test, TLF Share, United Western Visayas, and Vida Vivo Zamboanga.