The Philippines’ rapidly rising HIV infections, mainly spread via sex between men, is fuelled by the Catholic church discouraging condom use, experts say.
Although the recorded HIV prevalence rate is relatively low in the Philippines, with 9,669 confirmed cases in a population of nearly 100 million, many cases remain undetected and the nation is one of only seven countries in the world where HIV cases have risen by over 25% since 2001.
Unprotected sex between men makes up nearly 90% of all new cases of HIV, say the health department and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), according to a report by AFP.
Magdalena Lopez, from Catholics for Choice and the Condoms4Life spoke at the current International AIDS conference in Washington DC on Wednesday.
In an article for the Mercury News this week Lopez said that the actions of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines have been a ‘huge stumbling block’ in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
‘According to the World Health Organization, countries that implement 100% condom use contain epidemics and reverse the trend more quickly,’ said Lopez. ‘But when Health Secretary Dr Esperanza Cabral led a campaign to distribute condoms, one bishop said she already had "one foot in hell”.’
The UNDP’s HIV/AIDS program officer in the Philippines Philip Castro told AFP that the county has one of the lowest levels of condom use in Asia.
‘More than 60 per cent of MSM [men who have sex with men] had reported having unsafe sex in their last contact,’ Castro said.
Humphrey Gorriceta, a 37-year-old former gallery manager is one of the few people who have come out publicly as HIV positive in the Philippines.
Gorriceta said there is a lack of awareness about testing and condom use in the Filipino gay community. ‘Not all the people who are supposed to be tested get tested, and many of them are not properly aware of condom use,’ he said to AFP.
A Reproductive Health Bill, that would give free condoms to the poor and teach sex education in schools, has been stalled in the legislature for over a decade and is opposed by the head of the Catholic church in The Philippines, Archbishop Luis Antonio Tangle.