Indian Catholic News

Philippine churches combat HIV stigma as infections soar

Ecumenical drive seeks comprehensive testing of high-risk groups.

A church worker from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines conducts an HIV test on a resident of Quezon City in Manila. (Mark Saludes)

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has stepped up its campaign to fight the stigma faced by people with HIV amid rising infection rates partly blamed on social bias.

The NCCP rolled out its "90-90-90" program this week.

The organization wants 90 percent of all persons at risk of HIV exposure to undergo tests under safe and caring conditions, and for those who test positive to receive their church's care by 2020.

It also hopes that 90 percent of those who go for counseling can eventually witness their communities' status as free of discrimination.

It is stigma that prevents people vulnerable to HIV infection, which often leads to AIDS, from going for detection tests and early treatment, the NCCP said.

The NCCP cited United Nations figures showing the Philippines with the fastest-growing HIV/AIDS infection rate in the Asia-Pacific region in the past six years.

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS or UNAIDS said 10,500 Filipinos were infected with HIV at the end of 2016, up from only 4,300 in 2010.

The House of Representatives responded to the problem by Dec. 4 passing its version of the proposed "Philippine HIV and AIDS policy Act." The chamber passed the measure with a vote of 188-0.

Legislators say the new measure will allow a more "flexible" response to the HIV "epidemic" based on the characteristics of its spread and a more efficient implementation structure with defined roles for every government body involved.

Dinagat Representative Kaka Bag-ao, one of the champions of the bill, said the fight against HIV must be "premised on the respect, recognition and promotion of human rights and dignity."

The measure is still pending in the Senate, where conservative lawmakers have threatened to block it.

Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS regional support team director for the Asia-Pacific, said males who have sex with males and transgender women are the most vulnerable sector, accounting for 83 percent of all new HIV cases worldwide.

The Philippine Health Department said, the same sector also showed the highest infection rates. Two out of three new HIV infections were among 15 to 24 year-old men.

"The irrational fears and negative attitudes not only erode the sense of self-worth of people living with HIV, but inhibit both the uptake of services as well as the adequate provision of both psycho-social, spiritual and medical services to support universal access to stigma and discrimination-free prevention, treatment care and support," said the NCCP.

"Every person, regardless of social class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, drug use or sex work is deeply loved by God. When God’s people come into houses of worship and prayer and do not leave knowing this reality, then we, the faith community have failed both them and the God we serve," the group said.

Source: UCAN

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