HIV cases soaring in Philippines

By Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 25 2010 01:49 AM | Updated as of Nov 25 2010 10:52 AM

MANILA, Philippines - HIV cases in the Philippines are rising as the epidemic continues.

HIV cases soaring in Philippines 1From 835 cases in 2009, HIV cases have reached 1,305 in the first 10 months of this year.

The rising number of cases is happening amid a worldwide decline in HIV infection rates.

The Department of Health (DOH) said 4 Filipinos now contract HIV daily.

HIV cases soaring in Philippines 2It is the first time in the nation’s history that the department saw a surge in the spread of infections.

This is in contrast to a new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

It shows the AIDS epidemic has been halted and the world is beginning to reverse the spread of HIV.

HIV rates falling wordwide

New HIV infections have fallen by nearly 20% globally in the last 10 years, AIDS-related deaths are down by nearly 20% in the last 5 years, and the total number of people living with HIV is stabilizing.

HIV cases soaring in Philippines 3Data from the 2010 UNAIDS Report on the global AIDS epidemic shows that an estimated 2.6 million people became newly infected with HIV, nearly 20% fewer than the 3.1 million people infected in 1999.

In 2009, 1.8 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses, nearly one-fifth lower than the 2.1 million people who died in 2004.

"Condom use and availability have increased significantly. Eleven countries report more than 75% condom use at last higher-risk sex. Data from 78 countries show that condom use among men who have sex with men was more than 50% in 54 countries. Reports of condom use by sex workers are also encouraging. In 69 countries, more than 60% of sex workers used a condom with their last client," a UNAIDS press statement said.

Dr. Edsel Salvaña, research faculty at the National Institutes of Health, revealed on the other hand that they are having difficulties encouraging Filipinos to use condoms because the Catholic Church considers their use as a sin.

“Bigla talagang sumipa. napaka-alarming nito talaga, at hindi pa ito tapos. Dadami pa ito. Effective ang condom, no doubt,” he said. “Ano ba ang mas evil, yung gumamit ka ng condom o ikalat mo ang sakit mo?”

An offense against God?

“Using condoms is an offense against God. If you are abstinent and faithful, hindi ka magkaka-AIDS,” said Fr. Joel Jason, head of the Archdiocese of Manila’s Commission on Family and Life.

Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, has apparently softened the Vatican's stand on the issue.

The pontiff acknowledged that condoms are sometimes morally justifiable to stop AIDS – and can be used by gays, heterosexuals and transsexuals - if it is the only option to avoid transmitting the HIV virus to others, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

HIV cases soaring in Philippines 4The clarification came at a news conference to launch the pope's new book, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times.”

According to the Vatican Radio, the head of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, issued the statement to clarify passages of the book.

“The Pope considered an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real risk to the lives of others,” it said.

“In this case, the Pope does not morally justify the exercise of disordered sexuality, but believes that the use of condoms to reduce the risk of infection is a ‘first step on the road to a more human sexuality,’ rather than not to use it and risking the lives of others,” the Vatican radio added.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines, meanwhile, has remained firm in its stand against the use of condoms.