Is the Catholic Church to blame for the Philippines’ HIV epidemic?

Every hour, a Filipino gets infected with HIV. That is the health epidemic that the Duterte administration is now facing. How much of the blame can we put on the Catholic Church?  

Editorial

Steven Kraus, director of Unaids, the United Nations H.I.V./AIDS agency for Asia and the Pacific said, “The Philippines has the fastest-growing H.I.V. infection rate in Asia, along with Afghanistan. Right now, the Philippines runs the risk of letting the infection get out of control.”  85% of the new infections from January 2011 to March 2016 are male to male sex.

Catholic church continues to influence beliefs and behavior of Filipinos

Since 81% of the population are Catholics, the Catholic Church continues to wield significance influence over the Filipinos, especially over non-political issues.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), “has long had an obstructive influence on anti-HIV policies. Since the early 1990s, the CBCP has issued official statements vilifying condoms, campaigned against legislation that would expand condom access, and levied personal attacks against government officials who favor inclusion of condoms in HIV prevention programs.”

Conservative stance of the Catholic Church on condoms is detrimental

According to National Youth Commission chairperson Aiza Suguerra, “Unprotected sex is the main driver of the epidemic. We have to enable the youth to make responsible decisions, (ranging) from abstaining from sex to using a condom.”

The conservative stance of the Catholic Church creates a social stigma with using condoms. As a result, while condoms are easily available from convenience stores to pharmacies, people are hesitant to buy them as they feel people around them are judging them.

The Department of Health (DOH) had this controversial proposal to distribute condoms in public schools to address the growing epidemic, but the Department of Education refused to distribute condoms to children.

The main argument against giving condoms freely is that it will promote promiscuity, something which the Catholic Church is vehemently against.

This is despite the DOH’s secretary Ubial assertion that “In fact, it made those sexually active teens more cautious and knowledgeable of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies and STIs, including HIV, thus they became more careful.”

Duterte administration is pro-contraceptives

The passage of the Reproductive Health Law in 2012 was a landmark event in the country’s history, but a Supreme Court order stopped its full implementation.

However, Duterte believed that reproductive health is a priority because it will slow down population growth and help sustain the country’s rapid economic growth.

Earlier this year, Duterte signed an executive order that seeks to provide funds and support for the family planning of poor people. This order puts Duterte once again in a confrontation with the Catholic Church aside from his war on drugs.

The Catholic Church should help the government instead of criticizing

While the absolute number of people having HIV in the country is small, the rate of growth of new infections is truly alarming.

Paul Bongcaras, a Catholic monk, is an example of how the Catholic Church can help put a stop to this HIV epidemic. He freely gives out condoms to sex workers and other people in the slums.

He said, “It’s easy for them to preach and preach and preach, do not do it, do not do it.” Indeed reality is different outside the ivory tower.