Protestant churches in the Philippines marked World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 with activities aimed at "elevating the discourse" on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as a "rights issue." Spearheaded by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines
(NCCP), church workers, health advocates, and people living with HIV held discussions on how to battle the stigma surrounding the virus. "Our faith compels us to continue working with and for people living with HIV to address the many issues around this social illness," said Minnie Anne Mata-Calub, acting secretary general of the NCCP. HIV is not only a medical issue it is a social justice and human rights issue that has "economic, social, political, and cultural dimensions," she said. Jorge [not his real name], a person living with HIV, said it is important for people like him to see that there are people who are willing "to guide us through, despite of our condition." "It was my church that encouraged me to undergo treatment and live a normal life," he told ucanews.com. Carleen Nomorosa, a United Methodist Church
pastor, said "the struggles of people living with HIV are entrenched in humiliation" because of "poor sexual and health education" in the Philippines. She said most Filipinos have no knowledge about the virus, have no access to testing or to treatment. "We want the public to understand that HIV is a matter of social concern," said Nomorosa. "It is the right of every person living with the disease to be considered a normal person," she added. She said people living with HIV die not because of the disease but because of the stigma and poor access to basic health services. In a statement, the Protestant churches called on the Philippine government "to assume full responsibility in the provision of free health services to all people." Reverend Ada Nunez of the Union of Theological Seminary
also called on churches to "create spaces for people living with HIV." "What we need are compassionate and caring churches that would lead inclusive communities to break the stigma and discrimination," Nunez said. The first reported HIV case in the Philippines was in 1984. Since then, there have been 59,135 confirmed cases reported to the country's HIV/AIDS Art Registry. From 1984 to 2018, there were 2,917 reported deaths due to the disease, including 24 people living with HIV who died in September this year.