Health workers distribute condoms for free to sex workers in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Jimmy Domingo)
The Philippine Health Department says it will stop distributing condoms to high school students following an outcry from various social elements, especially Catholic Church leaders.
Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said the government will instead "intensify education on HIV/AIDS" among young people aged 16 to 24 years old.
Ubial made the announcement before the Commission on Appointments in the Philippine Senate when she appeared to hear the confirmation of her appointment as head of the Health Department.
"We will not implement it," she said in answer to a question made by Senator Vicente Sotto III, a staunch critic of a law that allows the use of contraceptives for birth control.
Church leaders were "elated" by the news.
They maintain that the use of contraceptives is "not the solution" to the spread of HIV and the rising number of teenage pregnancies in the Philippines.
"I am personally elated by the decision," said Father Melvin Castro, former head of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic bishops' conference.
The priest said what the country needs is "moral and values formation."
Philippine Church leaders have been highly critical of a government plan to distribute condoms in public high schools to address the increasing number of HIV cases among the youth.
Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the bishops’ public affairs office, said distributing condoms would only condone sexual activity among students.
The priest said the government should instead educate people about the perils of "sporadic sexual activity" than procuring and distributing condoms.
In a 2016 report, Human Rights Watch said the Catholic Church's influence on government health and education policies has fueled the Philippines' HIV epidemic.
In August, the head of the country's Research Institute for Tropical Medicine warned that HIV has become a "national emergency."
Doctor Rossana Ditangco warned that the government’s current approach to the epidemic means that, "we can’t control the rapid rise of HIV."
The UNAIDS' 2017 report indicates the number of people with HIV in the Philippines has become the highest in the Asia Pacific region.
The sharp rise in new cases since 2010 stands in contrast to decreasing or stagnant rates of those in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
Philippine Department of Health data said the country’s HIV prevalence shot up by 140 percent from 2010 to 2016.