MANILA - The Department of Health is working out details for making HIV tests compulsory amid the increasing number of HIV cases in the country.
Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag said while more people are getting HIV tests done, many who are at high risk have yet to submit themselves to HIV-AIDS testing.
"[Health] Secretary [Enrique] Ona would want to shift from voluntary testing to something that's compulsory. We're working out the details, how this is possible. We want health providers to screen adults who may have risk for HIV so they can be properly counseled on what to do next," he said in an interview on ANC's "Headstart."
Tayag said the DOH wants to debunk the myth that testing positive for HIV is a "death sentence."
He pointed out that Philhealth members who test positive for HIV can get up to P30,000 a year in anti-retroviral drugs.
However, compulsory HIV testing may face an uphill climb.
Under Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, it is considered unlawful for HIV testing to be a precondition for employment, admission to educational institutions and the provision of medical or any kind of service.
The National Epidemiology Center (NEC) earlier said 498 individuals have been confirmed to be HIV positive in March, 35 percent higher compared to the same period last year.
Tayag said the number is the highest recorded since the DOH began to track new HIV cases monthly in 1984.
This brings this year's total of new cases to 1,432 and the cumulative total of cases in the Philippines at 17,948 since 1984.
Most the cases in March were male at 95 percent. The 20-29 year age group had the most number of cases at 58 percent with 28 as the median age.
Identified modes of transmission were sexual contact, 443 cases; needle sharing among injecting drug users, 54; and mother to child, 1.
Males having sex with other males remains the predominant type of sexual transmission at 86 percent.
Unprotected anal sex has the highest risk of transmitting HIV among males.
Tayag said risky behavior among males who have sex with males poses a different set of challenges due to social media.
"While the social hygiene clinic is more appropriate to sex workers, for male sex workers it's another story. We're not blaming social media but it allows them to choose and meet new partners every day," he said.
He also said the DOH is working with local governments to address high HIV cases in hot zones including the National Capital Region, Southern Luzon, Central Luzon, Cebu and Davao where half of the total number of cases were recorded.