Oct 3, 2019

The growing HIV epidemic among young men in the Philippines

Medical technologists speak to people about free HIV testing in Manila.

Medical technologists speak to people about free HIV testing in Manila. Photo: Maria Tan/AFP/Getty Images

The Philippines faces the world's fastest-growing HIV epidemic, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: According to the UNAIDS agency, the estimated number of new infections in the country has more than doubled in the last 5 years. Doctors and epidemiologists in the country have suggested that dating apps are a major factor.

By the number: Doctors have diagnosed 67,395 Filipinos with HIV since 1984 when the first infection surfaced in the country. Three-quarters of patients were diagnosed in the past 5 years, according to the Philippine government.

  • 96% of those diagnosed in the last 5 years contracted the virus from a sexual encounter, the government said.
  • A large majority of people with newly documented HIV cases were gay and bisexual men aged between 15 and 34.

How it works: The government does not have data on how people met their partners, but the rise in infections coincides with the growing popularity of dating apps.

  • Access to the internet has empowered the LGBTQ community in the conservative Catholic country, but this new freedom has collided with a lack of sex education, HIV screenings and preemptive drugs.
  • Health advocates also said that "traditional social norms have kept people from using contraception and learning about responsible sexual practice," per WSJ.

The government passed legislation that promotes sex education in schools and lowers the age for HIV screening to 15 from 18.

  • With help from nonprofits, the country's health ministry is offering finger-prick HIV tests outside gay clubs and at popular social events.
  • Those who test positive are eligible for antiretrovirals to slow the virus, the government says, but government data shows that "less than half of those tested positive are currently on treatment," per WSJ.

Go deeper: CRISPR gene editing used to treat patient with cancer and HIV

Go deeper