Filipino youths join a campaign to raise awareness about safe sex and HIV/AIDS. (Photo: Save the Children)
A top health official has urged Filipino youths to avoid unprotected sex amid a rise in sexually-transmitted diseases, especially HIV infections.
During a press briefing in the capital Manila on March 14, Department of Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Filipino youths are vulnerable to HIV infection as they are exposed to risky sexual behaviors.
The HIV/AIDS and Art Registry of the Philippines confirmed 12,341 additional HIV-positive individuals in 2021, she said. The cases increased by 54 percent in 2021 compared to 8,036 reported cases in 2020.
She cited “too much” exposure to social media as a major cause of unprotected sexual behaviors and said unsafe sex is “the most common cause of HIV” globally.
“We have observed that among the young individuals who are practicing unsafe sex, they already have social media applications, where they can meet and chat,” the Philippine Star reported Vergeire as saying.
“These apps are what they use so that they can meet each other and engage in illicit behaviors,” she added.
Department of Health reported in 2020 that there were a total of 115,100 people living with HIV, and about 90 percent of new infections were recorded among young males who have sex with males. In 2022, on average 41 new cases were recorded daily, more than a 21 percent increase from 34 cases in 2021.
The department warned that with the current rate of HIV infections, the country will have over 330,000 HIV patients by 2030.
A 34-year-old gay man said he contracted HIV five years ago due to unsafe sex with a man whom he met in a bar in Manila.
“I never imagined he already had HIV when we had sex,” he told UCA News on condition of anonymity.
The patient from the Bicol region, south of the capital Manila, says having HIV is seen as a disgrace by society.
“The news that I am HIV positive was spread by a relative in my community. In order not to bring more shame to the family, my parents and siblings visit me here in Manila. It’s better that way. I also feel they (his family) are ashamed every time they visit the house,” he added.
Another gay HIV patient confessed he only heard about the virus when he was in Manila for work.
“We don’t talk about it… I came from Cebu province, a highly conservative place. Being gay is not even a subject of any conversation. How much more getting infected with HIV?,” the 37-year-old who also wished to remain anonymous, told UCA News.
He said he already had several partners before he knew about HIV and how it could be transmitted through unsafe sex.
“Perhaps I got it from my fourth boyfriend, who I heard, already died because of AIDS. He also came from the province,” he added.
He said he deactivated his social media accounts because of hate messages he received from his own relatives.
“I received a message from a cousin who told me that his father was ashamed of me. I never visited the province for five years already nor did I go to church… but I pray,” he said.
“I know we made a mistake, a terrible mistake. But I hope the government will not only treat us as research data but as real people with dignity. We also hope our society would still accept or like us,” he added.
A female HIV patient said she was infected because of her husband who had multiple sexual partners.
“He was only loyal a year after our marriage… then I started seeing messages in his phone coming from different women. I knew it (HIV) came from one of them who he had sex with,” the woman from Manila, 38, told UCA News.
“I felt discriminated by my husband’s family. They stopped inviting me to family gatherings although my husband still goes. I asked my husband about this, but he said I should be the one to understand his parents because both of us are HIV positives,” she said.
A Filipino clergyman who offers pastoral care to LGBTQ groups said the church needs to do much more for these groups to help protect them from fatal infections.
“It’s a mission of the Catholic Church but not every priest in the Philippines responds to… even if there is a need. They (LGBQ members) are members of God’s flock, too,” the priest told UCA News.
UCA News reached out to officials from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for comments, but no response came at the time of filing of this report.