The League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) pledged to fast-track the AIDS response in the cities, by signing a partnership agreement with UNAIDS to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the country. The signing event took place on the fringe of the LCP’s 30th anniversary celebrations on 27 July 2018. More than 145 mayors and local representatives from cities attended the event, which included a gala dinner.
UNAIDS’ newly released report, Miles to go: closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices, shows that the annual new infections have more than doubled in the Philippines in the past seven years to an estimated 12,000 in 2017. With a 174\\% increase since 2010, the Philippines is the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia and the Pacific region. New infections have now overtaken Thailand, Viet Nam and Myanmar, placing Philippines number 5 in terms of new infections in 2018 in the region. Cities and urban areas are particularly affected. Health authorities say that 70 cities, including the 17 cities in metro Manila, accounted for 80\\% of reported HIV cases in the country.
"The AIDS epidemic in the country is an issue that needs urgent action among local governments, especially since key populations at risk of infections reside mostly in the cities," said Laarni L. Cayetano, National Chair of the League of Cities of the Philippines.
Most agreed that there is a need to scale-up services tailored to key populations that go beyond female sex workers. More than 90\\% of new HIV infections are occurring among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people (TG). Condom use among men who have sex with men and transgender people hovers at 50\\% and 37\\% respectively and HIV testing is low. Only 16\\% of MSM knew their HIV status in 2015.
Local governments in the Philippines have earmarked resources and started more innovative HIV prevention services. For example, Quezon City has opened three Sundown clinics (Klinikas) that provide rapid HIV testing and counseling in a non-stigmatizing environment for gay men, men who have sex with men and transgender people. The city has also increased its HIV funding nine times since 2012 and has been urging other provinces to follow suit.
"Philippines has a small window of opportunity to act fast and stop a major HIV epidemic from taking hold," said Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Regional Director for the Asia and the Pacific. He added, "This commitment is achievable if cities where the epidemic is having a big impact take the lead." He also reaffirmed UNAIDS commitment to work in close partnerships with national and local authorities to support their efforts to bring HIV infections under control and provide technical expertise in how best to invest funds and reach people.
For the National President of the League of Cities of the Philippines, Edgardo D. Pamintuan, time is of the essence. "I strongly believe that if we effectively implement HIV response strategies in our localities though our partnership with UNAIDS, our efforts at the city level can make a significant impact in reaching the country’s targets," he said.