Philippine church leaders voice alarm at rising HIV cases

Figures show more than 60 percent of new cases are from among the youth
Philippine church leaders voice alarm at rising HIV cases

Church groups and advocates for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS light candles to mark World AIDS Day in Manila on Dec. 1. (Photo by Mike Taboy) 

A church leader in the Philippines has expressed concern over the rising number of Filipinos, especially among the youth, who are affected by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

"A majority of those affected is our youth," said Father Dan Cancino, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Health Care of the Catholic bishops' conference.

"This is the future of our country," said the priest.

More than 55,000 Filipinos will be infected with HIV this year, the Department of Health estimates.

"The epidemic is affecting young people at an unprecedented rate," said Percival Cendana, an official of the National Youth Commission.

According to the youth commission 62 percent of new HIV cases in 2016 was among young people between 15 and 24 years old.

Antoinette Evangelista, project officer for the National AIDS Prevention and Control Program, said the "fast and furious rate" of HIV infections in the country began in 2008.

According to the health department, there were 3,112 new HIV/AIDS cases from July to October, bringing the total this year to 7,756.

The figure also raised to 38,114 the total number of cases since 1984.

"The trend is increasing. In 2008, there was only one case per day.  This year, we have 26 HIV cases daily," said Evangelista.

The Philippines documented its first HIV case in 1984.

 

Leading by example

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the largest group of Protestant Churches in the country, urged the public this week to undergo HIV testing.

"Our churches have led by example," said Reverend Rex Reyes, secretary-general of the council. 

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He said 250 bishops, priests and deacons of the Philippine Independent Church and 160 clergy and laity of the United Methodist Church underwent HIV testing on World Aids Day, on Dec 1. 

The Rev. Reyes said the "teach and test" model that the council used in urban poor settlements has resulted in hundreds of respondents.

"Good information about HIV and accessible community-based screening encouraged significant numbers of people to get tested," he said.

He said the Philippine government must dedicate at least five percent of the national budget to healthcare. 

"This will not only address current underfunding  but also expand the HIV program to put our country on course along with UN targets," said the Rev. Reyes.

 

Challenge to Church

Bishop Julito Cortez of Dumaguete, head of the bishops' Episcopal Commission on Health Care, said the church has to step up its campaign against the virus and counter discrimination against those living with it.

"We are compelled to do something. We are called to have a pro-active Catholic response to the reality of HIV/AIDS in our country," said the prelate.

"As Christians, we are impelled by our faith to respond to situations of suffering like illness and sickness," he added.

Father Cancino said the church should take "concrete steps" against the virus. "We are challenged to take up these measures," he said.

The priest said "poor dissemination of information and the prevalence of pre-marital sexual activities among the youth" are among the factors that contributed to the spread of HIV.

He called on young people to be part of the observance of the National Catholic AIDS Sunday on Dec. 4 to widen awareness about HIV and AIDS.

 

Access to HIV-AIDS treatment

A group of activists said access to HIV-AIDS testing and treatment in the Philippines has "improved tremendously" compared to five years ago. 

Chris Lagman, founder of the Love Yourself Project, said government-run and private clinics and hospitals have already established satellite treatment hubs in the country. 

"In fairness to the government, it is providing funds for the campaign, especially in testing and treatment," Lagman told ucanews.com.

"[The government is] very supportive, but we have to understand that to capacitate [the community] takes some time," he said.

LoveYourself Inc., a leading NGO on HIV awareness and testing in the Philippines, held a "free, anonymous, and fast community-based screening" in Manila.

"With this kind of HIV testing day, we always ensure utmost confidentiality and promptness of procedure to best protect and serve our clients," said Ronivinn Pagtakhan, the organization's executive director.

He said that while the event focuses on the male population, the group also welcomes women and transgender individuals.

The Philippines is third among the eight countries in Asia and the Pacific with increasing new HIV infections. Afghanistan placed first followed by Pakistan.

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