The Philippines now has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the entire Asia-Pacific region. An average of 33 Filipinos are diagnosed with HIV every day, according to the latest data from the Department of Health (DOH). In August 2021 alone, 878 tested positive. Incidence rates are especially high in NCR, Central Luzon and Calabarzon.
But even with this rapidly rising figure, testing rates in the country remain low. Worse, COVID-19 lockdowns have disrupted and restricted access to HIV-related services.
The only way to find out if you have HIV is to get tested. You’re at especially high risk if you’re in a community or part of a subpopulation affected by HIV, and you have had sex or you share needles with other people. And while symptoms may include fever, chills, sore throat, rashes, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and mouth ulcers, not everyone who gets infected with HIV will experience symptoms (i.e. some can be asymptomatic at the start will not even know they have been infected). This is why it’s important to get tested regularly.
Currently there are over 100 HIV treatment hubs and facilities across the Philippines, from private and public hospitals to smaller clinics. These facilities are available in every region.
You can find a list of these places through this link:
You can also download the SAFELY app to find the clinic nearest you:
Aside from the facilities, many advocacy groups and community-based organizations also provide testing services, some of them for free. This may be a good option for you if you have no access to the DOH-recommended facilities. Check out LoveYourself PH (hyperlink) for a feel of such organizations.
An alternative to clinic testing—especially for those reluctant to test because of privacy concerns, or fear of exposure to COVID-19—is self-testing. This method is still being introduced in the country. As such, there are still no WHO-qualified HIV test kits available—but you can buy self-test kits online. A word of caution: if you must go with this option, buy these kits only from trusted websites with good reviews to be sure you are not getting scammed.
With the passage in 2018 of the new HIV and AIDS Policy Act (RA 11166), the DOH will continue to work on providing free and accessible treatment to those with HIV. The law also allows minors aged 15 to 17 to undergo voluntary HIV testing without parental consent.
And if you test negative for HIV, you can choose to start taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a pill taken orally to protect against HIV infection. Studies show that PrEP can reduce your risk of contracting HIV by up to 97 percent.
PrEP is available in the Philippines via LoveYourself PH. There are two ways to take the drug: either take one pill per day, or take it based on sexual activity. The former is more convenient, and the latter requires you to plan ahead—two pills taken at least two hours before sex, one pill 24 hours after that, and one more pill after another 24 hours. Unlike HIV treatment, PrEP is not taken for life, but during periods of weeks or months when you feel most at risk of contracting HIV.
1. Casal, C. (2019). ‘Is PrEP the key to ending our HIV epidemic?’ CNN Philippines Life. https://cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2019/12/1/HIV-PrEP.html
2. World Health Organization. (2019). ‘“We are the community”: Scaling up PrEP through community-based organizations in the Philippines. https://www.who.int/philippines/news/feature-stories/detail/we-are-the-community-scaling-up-prep-through-community-based-organizations-in-the-philippines
Johann Ulrik Go/ CONTRIBUTED