The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has launched the #PreventionNOTCondemnation campaign in time for the observance of the World AIDS Day 2014 on December 1. As part of the campaign, select clerics of the member-churches of NCCP will undergo voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) also on December 1 at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City, with other activities including an onsite HIV advocacy photoshoot, and an AIDS march around the circle.
According to Rev. Rex Reyes, Jr., general secretary of NCCP, there is a need to intensify the campaign for VCT for HIV in the country.
“We recognize (the) limited demand for VCT is because of the prevailing stigma on HIV and AIDS and the perception that only sinners and promiscuous people should get tested. On World AIDS Day, our hope is that people will realize that HIV test is as much a precautionary measure as blood tests,” Reyes said.
As it is, the Department of Health (DOH) reported that only 0.73% women and men aged 15-49 submitted for VCT and were informed of the results in the past 12 months, and only 8% of males having sex with males underwent HIV testing and knew the results. This makes the issue seem of importance only to select populations, even if studies show that everyone could be vulnerable to the virus. Infection can happen through blood transfusion, injection, or even while having an operation.
Since 2011, the NCCP employed the “SAVE” approach, which provides a more holistic way of preventing HIV by incorporating the ABC principle (i.e. abstinence, be faithful, and correct and consistent condom use) when providing information about HIV transmission and prevention, providing support and care for those already infected, and actively challenging the denial, stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. SAVE stands for safer practices such as prevention of mother to child transmission, safe blood, safe injections, safe circumcision, safe microbicides, correct and consistent condom use, and vaccines research; access to care, treatment and nutrition; voluntary, routine and stigma-free counseling and testing; and empowerment of children, youth, women, men, families, communities and nations vulnerable to preventable and controllable infections, illnesses and deaths.
Reyes remains opposed to mandatory HIV testing as it heightens stigma and discrimination. “It does not encourage people to come forward. It is also a violation of people’s rights. We are much more in favor of VCT as it allows an individual to undergo counseling, enabling him or her to make an informed choice about being tested for HIV,” he said.
Through the #PreventionNOTCondemnation campaign, NCCP is eyeing to “step up our efforts to educate our member churches on the correct information on HIV and AIDS through trainings, prayers, liturgy, and preaching. Our hope is that religious leaders will maximize their positions of respect within their faith communities to break the silence, challenge the stigma and provide the delivery of evidenced-based prevention, care and treatment services in response to HIV. I believe that is both scientific and pastoral,” Reyes ended.