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Philippines Has Highest HIV Growth Rate in Asia-Pacific

More than 80 percent of new HIV cases occurred among males who have sex with males and transgender women who have sex with males.

An HIV-positive Filipino lights candles around an AIDS symbol as he participates in an event in observance of World AIDS Day in Quezon city, Philippines.Aaron Favila / AP

MANILA - The Philippines has registered the fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Asia-Pacific in the past six years with a 140-percent increase in the number of new infections, the health ministry and the United Nations said on Tuesday.

At the end of 2016, there were 10,500 Filipinos infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) up from 4,300 in 2010, Health Minister Paulyn Ubial told a news conference, citing data from UNAIDS.

 A priest lights candles around an AIDS symbol as he participates in an event in observance of World AIDS Day in Quezon city, Philippines. Aaron Favila / AP

Ubial encouraged voluntary HIV-testing and use of condoms to help fight the problem, which in May 2017 alone saw 1,098 new cases of HIV infections in the Philippines, the highest recorded number of cases since 1984 when infections were first reported.

The country can still end the public health threat by 2030 if the government can re-direct its focus on the people and locations most at risk, said Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS regional support team director for Asia-Pacific.

He said 83 percent of new HIV cases occurred among males who have sex with males and transgender women who have sex with males.

Genesis Samonte, head of the health ministry's public health surveillance department, said men who have sex with men were most at risk.

Related: OutFront: HIV-Positive Counselor Shares His Story to Help Others

"We're not talking about those that are openly gay," Samonte told a news conference. "Any male who has sex with another male for whatever reason, is at risk."

Two out of three new HIV infections were among 15 to 24 year-old men, who she said have insufficient awareness of HIV, its symptoms and treatment.

Most of the men had their first sexual encounter at 16 years old and only get tested for HIV eight years later, she said.

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