To highlight that the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines is a growing concern of different sectors of society, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Bahaghari LGBT Organization, Gabriela NCR, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Student Council, and STAND UP launched the #HEALtheILLS campaign during World AIDS Day 2015.
In a statement, Rev. Rex Reyes Jr, general secretary of NCCP, said that the intersectionalities of issues need to be confronted to defeat HIV.
“Poverty, unemployment, lack of access to quality and affordable social and health services, lack of political will and gender inequality… all contribute to increase the vulnerability of people to HIV and AIDS,” said Reyes.
STIGMA AND FEAR
Aaron Bonette, national chairperson of Bahaghari LGBT Organization and Outrage Magazine youth representative, lamented that HIV and AIDS continue to be seen by many as diseases only of gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and other men who have sex with men.
“Despite scientific evidence that HIV infection and AIDS are not gay diseases, homophobia and transphobia continue to make LGBT people highly vulnerable to them,” Bonette said.
For Justice Siscar of STAND UP College of Mass Communications, some media practices have contributed to the stigma on HIV and AIDS. “Fear of HIV and AIDS and those infected and affected by it are perpetuated by some media practitioners. Media should play the role of educating ways to prevent infection and highlight how government and other institutions should respond comprehensively,” she said.
Mench Tilendo, also of STAND UP, cited that despite the steep increase of new HIV infections in recent years – from less than one case a day in 2006 to 22 cases a day in October 2015, “the Philippine government had a very low service coverage due a low investment in HIV and AIDS prevention.”
NCCP – in a statement – added that “for 2016, the Philippine government pegged the budget for combating HIV and AIDS at P1.08 billion, almost double the amount allocated in 2015. Yet this is only 26% of the estimated P4.1 billion which UNAIDS has estimated as the amount needed for effective HIV and AIDS prevention coverage.”
For Bryle Leano of the People’s Struggle Committee of the University Student Council of UP Diliman, poverty, joblessness, and lack of social services aggravate the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
“The pervasive reality of unemployment and poverty among people living with HIV has led to the deaths of many due to AIDS related complications that are difficult to manage in the current and dominant state of commercialized and privatized health care system in the country,” Leano said.
COMPREHENSIVE RESPONSE NEEDED
The NCCP added that the current approaches in addressing the epidemic have been inadequate.
“The ‘Abstinence, Be mutually faithful, Use Condoms,’ ‘Awareness,’ and ‘Behavior Change’ approaches have been necessary but have proved to be inadequate as they have failed to take into account the other ways in which HIV can be transmitted and other drivers of the epidemic, including poverty, unemployment, poor healthcare systems, gender inequalities and the role of power in sexual relations. Middle class and wealthy Filipinos respond to awareness campaigns because their participation in risky sexual behavior is voluntary,” said Reyes.
Lean Flores of Gabriela NCR cited the case of an 11-year-old girl from one of their member communities who tested positive for HIV after being paid as a sex slave in exchange for rice.
“There will always be new HIV infections, as long as there is poverty and violence against women and girls. We need to realize that for the poor, risky sexual behavior is generally compelled by structural and social factors beyond their control,” Flores said.
The NCCP calls on their churches and associate members to enhance their knowledge, skills, and attitudes on HIV and AIDS and awareness of safer practices covering all different modes of HIV transmission; and on gender, sex, and sexuality.
“We also call on government to ensure that the budget of the Department of Health should be relevant to the needs of the people and the health allotment should be based on WHO recommendation of 5% of GDP. We echo the call of UNAIDS that the national government must increase investments in the HIV and AIDS response and cover 50% to 75% of national needs (or $20 to $30 million per year) and reiterate our continuing call to address the inequitable access to health facilities, goods and services,” Reyes ended.