In February 2016, the Department of Health reported the highest number of new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections since 1984.
But for outgoing health secretary Janette Garin, this alarming rise in new HIV cases can be attributed to the success of the department's free HIV testing program.
There were fewer reported cases before because people do not want to get tested or don't have the means to do so, according to Garin.
"Maraming naging positibo kasi mas naging agresibo tayo sa free testing. Marami na ang nagpapatingin dahil sa Know Your Status campaign," said Garin.
(Many people tested positive because we became more aggressive in our free testing campaign. Many people are getting tested because of the Know Your Status campaign.)
The free testing project, Know Your Status, was launched by the Department of Health in cooperation with other organizations to spread awareness on the importance of getting tested and to erase the stigma that comes with it.
'Fastest growing HIV epidemic'
The first case of HIV infection recorded in the Philippines was in 1984. In recent years, the number of new cases has been growing at an alarming rate, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to call it the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world in May 2015.
In February this year, the DOH reported 646 new cases of HIV infections, the highest since 1984.
But Garin said this is a result of the campaign's aggressiveness and success. She also emphasized that because more people are now open to getting tested, the virus and its effects could be intercepted early.
"Now we have patients who will turn out positive, i-intercept mo sila sa maagang stage. Hindi pa full-on AIDS. Dati nagtetest ka kasi marami ka ng sintomas. Ngayon nagtetest ka kasi you want to know your status," stressed Garin.
(You can intercept the virus on its early stages, when it's not yet full-on AIDS. Before, you get tested because you already exhibit many of the symptoms. Now, you get tested because you want to know your status.)
If left unchecked, HIV infections could lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS, which means a complete breakdown of the human immune system.
Free HIV testing can be done in more than 160 health centers nationwide.