PASAY CITY – The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) recently conducted the Science Policy and Information Forum on HIV/AIDS last November 19, 2018 at the Hotel Jen Manila.

The forum was conducted to discuss relevant and emerging issues in science and technology and provide necessary advice for policymakers and lawmakers. It was co-organized by the NAST PHL Social Sciences Division (SSD) and Health Sciences Division (HSD). The event is consisted of four lectures from specialists that deal with HIV/AIDS and will be capped off by an open forum.

The participants were welcomed by NAST PHL Vice President Academician Fabian M. Dayrit who stressed the need to talk about the issue of HIV/AIDS. He expressed hope that the activity will enlighten lawmakers on how to properly address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Academician Dayrit, a professor of Chemistry at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), also presented the objectives of the forum which centered on familiarizing the participants on the national situation and current programs and interventions on HIV/AIDS. It also included the objective to discuss policies and strategies that will ensure early detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

The first lecture was delivered by Mr. Noel S. Palaypayon, supervising health program officer under the National HIV/STI Surveillance and Strategic Information Unit of the Department of Health – Epidemiology Bureau. Mr. Palaypayon discussed the state of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines, warning that the estimated number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) will triple in the next 10 years. Even more alarming is the fact that for every three new infections, two are listed under the 15-year-old to 24-year-old age bracket. This means that people getting infected with HIV are getting younger and younger. To end his lecture, Mr. Palaypayon stressed that preventive measures are needed to halt this epidemic.

Dr. Edsel Maurice T. Salvaña, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the UP Manila National Institutes of Health, gave a lecture on the diagnosis and management of HIV in the Philippines. Dr. Salvaña described how HIV causes the host’s immune system to fail. Even though no effective vaccine has been developed as of yet, Dr. Salvaña pointed out that HIV is now treatable with anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). He also shared the “Undetectable = Untransmissible” principle which states that PLHIV who are on treatment and have achived viral suppression (no virus in their blood while on meds) are no longer able to transmit the virus to anyone.

For the third lecture, Dr. Rossana A. Ditangco, head of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine - AIDS Research Group (RITM – AIG), discussed the Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the prevention strategies to control the HIV epidemic. The PrEP is an anti-HIV medication intended for persons without HIV infection but has substantial risk of being infected. Included in this group is the sexual partner of a PLHIV who is not being treated. Dr. Ditangco mentioned some HIV prevention strategies such as increased education, use of condoms and lubes, the use of antiretroviral drugs, and both the PrEP and its post exposure counterpart (PEP). She noted that these strategies must be used in combination with each other in order to be effective.

The last lecture was delivered by Dr. Louie R. Ocampo, country director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS). He discussed the key role of the Sustainable Development Goal No. 3 (SDG 3) in ending the AIDS epidemic. One of the key components in this drive is to make cities, considered as one of the areas where HIV incidence is high, to be healthier and more resilient. Included in this drive is the FAST-TRACK City Initiative which targets that by 2020, 90% of PLHIV know their HIV status and that there will be 0% stigma and discrimination. Dr. Ocampo capped off his lecture by stressing the need for collaboration and that the world is still have miles to go in ending this epidemic.

During the open forum, most questions raised revolved around HIV treatment and prevention and on getting more people educated about the epidemic. The lecturers stand in unison that one of the most effective prevention strategies is the use of condoms. They also stressed that education should be institutionalized in order to address the rise of cases among young people. The open forum was moderated by Academician Remigio M. Olveda, a member of the NAST PHL Health Sciences Division.

Dr. Glenn L. Sia Su, an associate professor of public health from the UP Manila, gave the synthesis for the event, highlighting the importance of holding off the epidemic through effective prevention strategies.

For the closing remarks, National Scientist Raul V. Fabella, Chair of the NAST PHL SSD, stressed the need to collaborate and work together in order to stave off the harmful effects of the epidemic to the society and the people. He expressed hope that the points raised during the forum will reach the policymakers and result into well-crafted decisions in dealing with HIV/AIDS.

NAST PHL is an attached agency to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and serves as the country’s premier recognition and advisory body on science and technology.