According to Steven Kraus, director of the United Nations HIV/AIDS agency for Asia and the Pacific, the Philippines has the fastest-growing HIV rate in Asia, along with Afghanistan.
There has been a significant decrease of new cases in Asia as observed by the organization as a result of intensified awareness and prevention campaigns that were carried out from 2010 to 2015.
Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia had significant decreases of more than 30 percent while Asia overall had a decrease of 5 percent.
Despite these improvements in the global movement to promote AIDS awareness and prevention, this is not the case for the Philippines.
With a population of more than 100 million, there are about 39,000 people in the Philippines who are identified as HIV positive. This number is indeed relatively low, however, the UNAIDS estimated that new cases increased by more than 50 percent in a span of only five years.
It has been observed that the infection rate is high among young people, particularly gay men who are under 25 years. Other young people who are at risk for HIV are injecting drug users, transgender women, and female prostitutes. From 2011 to 2015, the rate of new infections increased by 230 percent.
According to the Department of Health (DOH), only 17 percent of Filipinos between the of ages of 15 and 24 are aware of what HIV is and how it spreads.
Despite the alarming increase of HIV cases among the younger members of the population, various efforts to promote awareness and prevention had been hampered due to various institutions who thinks that maintaining conservative societal norms is the best way to address the issue.
Just last month the Department of Education announced that it would cancel its joint project with the Department of Health to distribute condoms to junior and senior high school students in public schools. The project would also enforce trained teachers to counsel students on sex education; from preventing pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and to offer voluntary HIV testing. It also offers training to help parents talk to their kids about sex.
In as much as this plan can be promising in addressing the issue at grassroots level by providing sufficient education to all parties involved, the plan was opposed by various groups including a coalition of concerned parents, the Roman Catholic Church and conservative politicians.
Apparently, for 80 percent of Filipinos who are members of the Catholic Church and as bearers of conservative social norms, they contend that the only way to reduce HIV cases is through abstinence alone.
Although according to Kraus, all good and successful national AIDS programs promote the use of condoms. He also cited that countries that generated a 30 to 35 percent decrease in infections was a result of comprehensive condom programming.
HIV and AIDS coordinator for the DOH, Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac expressed his disappointment saying that the reversal is a “lost” opportunity.
In a 2015 survey by the DOH, 57 percent of young gay men who are either in high school or college are at risk of contracting HIV, while 67 percent of the people who are HIV positive are between the ages 15 and 24.
Aside from institutions opposing such plans to prevent more incidents, the DOH finds it challenging to implement a scheme to address the growing epidemic amongst the nation’s youth given that parental consent is needed in order for a minor to be checked. At this rate, there are a lot of cases that are not recorded nor catered to, thus inflicting more dangers to youth.
In as much as education and awareness is the primary step to addressing the problem, the main enemy is the conservative social stigma that still prevails.
For younger people, buying a condom and getting tested for HIV can be a humiliating experience. It will be very likely for the cases to further increase as society still keeps on turning a blind eye on the concept of sex as a whole.