Philippine clergy should have HIV tests to help remove the stigma and discrimination against people living with the virus and AIDS, a leading official of the bishops' conference's Commission on Health Care said. "Priests can help fight the stigma by undergoing HIV tests themselves," said Father Dan Vicente Cancino, executive secretary of the commission said May 14. "The real challenge [in fighting HIV and AIDS] is the stigma and discrimination," said Father Cancino. On May 14, members of the Philippine Catholic HIV-AIDS network, under the supervision of the bishops' conference, took part in an international AIDS candlelight memorial in Manila to remember people suffering from the illness. Father Cancino said church groups have been involved in counseling and assisting families of people affected by HIV-AIDS. "The largest fraction of our effort is education," said the priest. "We should value our relationships to our family and our faith to God," Father Cancino said. "In giving importance to the teachings of the church, we will be able to prevent acts that lead to such an illness," he said. Church groups join an international AIDS candlelight memorial in Quezon City on May 14 to remember people living with HIV-AIDS. (Photo by Mike Taboy) Efforts and advocacies
Dr. Gondo Weiler, Philippine representative of the World Health Organization, lauded the increasing numbers of advocates and groups helping disseminate awareness about AIDS. "We can see a much engaged Filipino public in facing the truth about this virus," he said. "With efforts from the government, religious sectors, and nongovernmental organizations, we hope that cases of HIV will decrease," said Weiler. Faustine Luell Tupas Angeles, a 27-year old banker living with HIV appealed for an end to the "fear and misconception" about people with the virus.
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"This illness doesn't define who we are. For those who are living with HIV, don't be afraid to seek medical treatment," said Angeles. Angeles urged people living with the virus to come out "because being diagnosed with HIV is not a death sentence." Growing number of cases
The Philippines is among nine countries with increasing cases of HIV-AIDS, according to health ministry officials. Vicente Balizario, undersecretary of the Department of Health, said despite the Philippines having recorded low-infection statistics in the past among Asian countries "we are a country with growing numbers. The Philippines has 31,160 cumulative cases of people living with HIV from January 1984 to January 2016. The most dramatic increase was recorded from 2011 to 2016 with 25,145 diagnosed patients. The most infections involve males, with 24,004 cases from 2011 to the present. In January 2016, there were 64 reported deaths due to AIDS, 60 of them were male. More than half of reported deaths belong in the 25-34 year age group. A total of 1,638 deaths were reported from January 1984 to March 2016. Data from the Health Department shows most infections were through sexual contact. Some 85 percent of sexually transmitted cases were among males having sex with other males. "HIV-AIDS is not a hopeless case," said Balizario. In the Philippines, screening, testing, and treatment, are free and are covered by the government's health insurance program.