UN official urges renewed HIV response commitment in PHL

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Christine Stegling visited the Philippines from June 18 to 19, 2024, to strengthen HIV response partnerships and commitment.

Stegling, also the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), aimed to secure the government’s renewed commitment to expand HIV services, enhance combination prevention programs, bolster community-led responses, address stigma and discrimination, and develop a sustainability plan.

This agenda is particularly urgent as the Philippines has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region.

Since 2010, new infections have increased fivefold (418%), with 2022 seeing three new infections every hour, totaling 24,000 new infections annually.

“There is a real need to strengthen HIV prevention and treatment services in the Philippines, but also to talk about sex and sexuality with young people in all their diversity,” Stegling said.

“Many young people are getting infected and dying. So there is an issue of young people engaging in unprotected sex.”

The visit coincided with the country’s celebration of Pride Month, which focuses on issues and advocacy for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

Males who have sex with males and transgender individuals are particularly vulnerable to HIV but lack adequate access to services.

“This visit was an opportunity for us to express the critical need for more community strengthening investments and interventions so we can be fully capable in leading the response. We ought to build a community capacity roadmap to set directions for a community-led response,” said Magdalena Robinson, Executive Director of Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Incorporated.

In his State of the Nation Address last year, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declared HIV a top health priority, as reflected in the country’s 8-Point Health Agenda. A comprehensive, nationwide approach is needed to mount an effective HIV response.

Stegling met with Secretary of Health, Dr. Teodoro Herbosa, to explore strategic directions and the development of a Sustainability Roadmap to fully fund the National Strategic HIV Plan to End AIDS by 2030.

“This visit is timely as we gather development partners and technical experts to share with the Department of Health innovations and good practices from other countries which can be potentially adopted in our local setting. This collaboration is very much welcome to scale up the country’s HIV response,” Dr. Herbosa said.

Stegling also met with legislator Geraldine Roman, a principal author of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in the House of Representatives, to advocate for more funding for HIV prevention and the institutionalization of transgender health services.

“There is urgency to pass the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, or Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Equality Bill to provide protection and equal rights and access to health services, including HIV and gender-affirming care for transgender people. It is imperative to eliminate gender and HIV-related stigma and discrimination if we want to end the AIDS epidemic in the country,” Roman said.

During a visit to the SAIL Clinic, a community-led facility providing HIV services, Stegling gained insights into the strategies used and challenges faced by communities providing these services.

She met with representatives of community-led organizations and key population groups to explore their needs and discuss how UNAIDS can support their call for increased investments in young key population interventions and community systems strengthening.

“The discussion on sustainability was incredibly insightful, offering valuable examples from other community-led service providers in different countries. Community-led organizations play a critical role in expanding HIV service delivery but are mostly funded by donors. Hence, the government should consider mechanisms to finance community-led responses to sustain their efforts,” said Earl Patrick Penabella, SAIL Clinics’ Program Manager.

Stegling concluded her visit by meeting with the UN Country Team, led by Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, to rally support and increased investments from other UN agencies for HIV programs.


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