12 Dec 2016

Policy Failures Fuelling HIV Philippines’ Epidemic

Human Rights Watch say Duterte’s administration needs to encourage condom use among gay and bisexual men.

Human Rights Watch have accused the Philippines government of fuelling HIV prevalence among gay and bisexual men in a 46-page report titled Fueling the Philippines’ HIV Epidemic: Government Barriers to Condom Use by Men Who Have Sex With Men.

Religious conservatism and restrictive policies that the Duterte administration has inherited are fuelling the rise in HIV infections in the country, according to the report.

The Philippines has witnessed a tenfold increase in cases over the last five years and in at least 11 cities more than 5 percent of MSM are infected with HIV. In the country's second biggest city Cebu the prevalence is 15 percent.

Official data from the government show that those living with HIV rose from just two in 1984 (the year HIV was first reported in the country) to 835 by 2009. From 2009 to 2010, the number doubled to 1,591 people, as more MSM contracted the virus, before it surged to more than 35,000 cases as of June 2016. Health records show that of the 35,000, 81 percent were MSM cases.

“President Rodrigo Duterte has inherited a legacy of failed or counterproductive policies of previous administrations that are contributing to the alarming increase in HIV infections among men who have sex with men,” said Carlos H. Conde, Philippines researcher.

The report also lays blame on the Catholic Church, of which 80 percent of Filipinos are believers.

“Since the early 1990s, the Roman Catholics and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines 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.

“The Church, backed by conservative lawmakers, has obstructed efforts to expand public education and awareness of the value of condoms in HIV prevention on the basis that condom use promotes promiscuity,” the report said.

“Reducing HIV transmission isn’t rocket science. But it does require the Duterte government to implement an HIV prevention program and remove obstacles to condom and HIV testing access so that young Filipinos – particularly men who have sex with men – can protect themselves from an otherwise preventable illness,” said Conde.

Human Rights Watch also released the accompanying video below: