PH urged to have ‘open discussion’ on sexuality to fight HIV spread
The World Health Organization (WHO) urged the Philippines to have an “open discussion” about sexuality and on the solutions to combat the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to help bring down its rate of new infections, which is currently the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.
While the Philippines has several health interventions to help address HIV, awareness on the proper behavior to prevent the transmission of the disease as well as on its risks especially to vulnerable sectors remain wanting, according to WHO representative to the Philippines Gundo Weiler.
“There’s not enough awareness of the seriousness of the situation and we do see that too many people are still engaging in unsafe sexual behaviors in key populations. I think one of the biggest problems is that people do not feel sufficiently that HIV is an issue for them,” Weiler said.
That is why he said that it’s important for the predominantly Roman Catholic country to talk about sexuality openly, especially among the youth, for them to have a “good understanding about the potential risks” as well as to be knowledgeable of the ways on how they can protect themselves.
“As a baseline effort, we do really need to make HIV an issue for all communities, something that should be discussed openly in communities, families, friends, so that people can adopt safe behaviors and protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV,” Weiler said.
As of July, there are already 57,134 confirmed HIV cases in the country since reporting began in 1984. HIV cases from January to July this year was the highest recorded so far at 6,532 new infections. In the same period last year, there were 6,253 cases, while in 2016, there were 5,393 cases.
Based on current trends, the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) warned that the number of people with HIV in the country could quadruple to 265,900 cases in 2028 should interventions remain wanting and vulnerable sectors, such as men having sex with men (MSM), continue to engage in risky behaviors.
According to PNAC director Joselito Feliciano, addressing the upsurge in HIV cases in the country remains to be an issue as one’s behavior is a key factor to it. He noted that while some individuals do know of the risks of HIV, this does not necessarily translate to them practicing what they know.
For one, he said that condom use among MSM is low for the simple reason they are uncomfortable with it. He added that there are also issues with the country’s prevailing culture which hampers the accessibility to condoms.
“They are ashamed to buy condoms in convenience stores, and since condoms are still controversial, ensuring access to it remains limited,” Feliciano said.
In its recent report, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) found that between 2010 and 2017, the HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region expanded the fastest in the Philippines.
While new HIV infections among those aged 15 to 24 grew by only 29 percent in Pakistan, the Philippines recorded a whopping 170-percent increase.
Although UNAIDS earlier said that “condoms effectively prevent” the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea, its use among MSM in the country over the last six months was only at 40 percent.
Feliciano noted that the country could still see its HIV incidence rate plateau, like in Thailand, but only if there would be strong political will and “100 percent” condom use, especially in vulnerable sectors.
“It’s a development problem that all agencies should work together to address,” he said. /muf
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