As it joins the observance of National HIV Testing Week from May 11 to 15, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and reiterated its call that voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) for HIV be made stigma-free, confidential, accessible, routine, and free (SCARF).
“VCT for HIV is an effective way to prevent HIV transmission and AIDS related deaths. It offers practical ways for both HIV-negative and HIV-positive persons to remain healthy, to access treatment, and to avoid the spread of the virus,” said The Most Rev. Ephraim S. Fajutagana, chairperson of NCCP and Obispo Maximo of Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church).
The NCCP noted with alarmed concern that there were 667 newly diagnosed HIV cases as of March 2015 and that only 2 per cent of women aged between 15-49 years-old have ever been tested for HIV and had been informed on the results on the tests conducted on them. They also noted that the Department of health surveillance reports among key populations also showed that only 8 percent of males who have sex with other males, 15.2% of male sex workers, 5.4% of transgender people who are sex workers and 6.3% of people who inject drugs have accessed HIV testing services.
“We encourage everyone to submit for VCT as a routine. In most instances, people submit for HIV testing at a late period. Late diagnosis can advance the stages of HIV leading to AIDS. The result is more tragic in terms of the current public health situation where there is inequitable access to health facilities, goods, and services and the increased cost of medical care. As regard of this, we renew our call that government must invest more in the health of its citizens,” said Fajutagana.
Under the NCCP’s #PreventionNOTCondemnation campaign, the 10 mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic churches aim to challenge the varied myths and misconceptions of their faith communities about the HIV virus and the manner of infections.
“Many still think that they are immune or not affected by HIV. This sense of invulnerability has become our individual barrier to making the right decisions. We are educating our religious leaders and church workers to help people understand that they are vulnerable to HIV simply because they are human. The HIV virus does not discriminate and like any virus can infect anyone,” said Fajutagana.
Fajutagana added that faith can be a tool for HIV education.
“Even as our faith beckons us to lay our hands to those with infirmity in a loving manner, so we are called to teach that faith enlightens us in order to protect us. We preach the truth in so far as it leads us in to fuller knowledge of God who loves us and cares for us,” Fajutagana ended.