People with HIV, TB most vulnerable to COVID-19

FILIPINOS who are unaware that they are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or with tuberculosis (TB) are extremely susceptible to the new coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19), Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor warned.

“We have many undiagnosed cases of HIV and TB, which means they are not currently getting any treatment. We’re afraid they are highly vulnerable once exposed to the new coronavirus,” said Defensor, a vice chairman of the House Committee on Health.

As to Filipinos already diagnosed with HIV or TB, the Department of Health (DOH) should ensure that they are getting their daily doses of free medicines despite the harsh restrictions on the movement of people imposed by the government to control the COVID-19 outbreak, Defensor said.

“The DOH should see to it that all 156 designated HIV outpatient centers stay open so that those already undergoing treatment are still able to get their free supply of antiretroviral drugs,” Defensor said.

“We have more than 48,000 Filipinos living with HIV who are currently undergoing anti-retroviral therapy, plus another 1,000 new cases every month who are initiated (on the therapy),” Defensor pointed out.

Filipinos living with HIV are deemed at greater risk because of their severely weakened immune systems, especially if they are not getting treatment, or even if they are getting treatment but miss their daily doses of antiretroviral drugs.

HIV causes AIDS, or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which destroys the human body’s natural ability to ward off all kinds of infections. The condition still does not have any known cure, but antiretroviral drugs have been known to keep HIV under control.

The DOH’s National HIV/AIDS Registry reported a total of 71,778 cases as of September 2019.

Of the 71,778 cases, registry data show that only 41,468 cases (or 58 percent) were undergoing treatment while 3,617 (or 5 percent) have died.

“At least 90 Filipinos are dying of TB every day,” Defensor said ahead of World Tuberculosis Day on March 24.

“Now more than ever, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the DOH should assure those already diagnosed with TB their free drugs without any interruption,” Defensor said.

The Philippines has the world’s third highest TB prevalence rate after South Africa and Lesotho, according to the World Health Organization.

Last year, the DOH vowed to find and treat by 2022 up to 2.5 million Filipinos living with TB.