MANILA: HIV infections among men having sex with men in the Philippines have surged 10-fold in five years, with authorities largely ignoring the problem, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.
The Catholic country has one of the fastest-growing epidemics of HIV in the Asia-Pacific because successive governments have failed to promote contraceptives and give sex education to gay or bisexual men, it said.
“National education on effective HIV prevention methods is non-existent, and laws prohibit condom access and HIV testing to people under 18 without parental consent,” the report said.
Out of the 35,000 cases of HIV documented in the Philippines since 1985, 81 percent were from men having sex with men, HRW said, citing government data.
The problem is quickly getting worse, with 25 new cases of HIV being documented in the Philippines every day, according to HRW’s study of the government data.
“There is a very real risk of this spreading into the wider community, but authorities are doing very little about it,” HRW Philippine researcher Carlos Conde told Agence France-Presse.
One of the biggest barriers is the Catholic Church, a very powerful institution in the Philippines.
About 80 percent of the Philippine population is Catholic, and its influence has ensured abortion, divorce and same-sex marriages remain illegal.
The Church has also fought previous government efforts to make contraceptives more easily available to the general population, and for sex education to be taught in schools.
The five-month-old government of President Rodrigo Duterte has said it is prepared to take on the Church on the issue of safe sex.
Last week it announced that it planned to start distributing condoms in schools and was considering giving away HIV self-testing kits, triggering an angry reaction from Church leaders.
Conde said the announcements by the Duterte administration were positive signs but cautioned the Church had successfully stymied efforts by previous governments, so it was too early to tell if Duterte’s plans would be fully implemented.
He also said the Duterte administration appeared, like other governments, not to be looking specifically at the high infection rates among men having sex with men. AFP