Health Officials ‘Stumped’ by Philippines’ Contradiction of Low HIV Prevalence Rate, Low Condom Use
Public health officials have said that they are "stumped" by a contradiction in the Philippines, where the HIV prevalence rate is estimated to be about 0.01% but only 4% of sexually active young men use a condom on a regular basis, the New York Times reports. AIDS experts "can only guess at the reasons" for the low prevalence rate, which is not thought to be due to underreporting. "It's quite perplexing," Zahidul Huque, head of a United Nations AIDS group in the Philippines, said, adding, "We've been talking about it a lot and frankly, we don't know why it's low. The potential for an explosion is there." Some experts said that a combination of factors may be contributing to the low HIV prevalence rate, including a low ratio of clients to sex workers, low rates of certain ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases and low rates of injection drug use. In addition, there is speculation that the widespread practice of circumcision in the Philippines and elsewhere may be a factor in preventing HIV infection. "There is no strong, clear-cut factor that will tell us, this is the reason why," Jean-Marc Olive, the World Health Organization representative for the Philippines, said, adding, "I think it's a number of different factors adding up. I think they are lucky, but that's not at all the way to control AIDS." According to the Times, "little is being done to hold back a possible epidemic" because it is difficult to discuss condoms in the "conservative" Roman Catholic country. The government does not sponsor an AIDS awareness campaign, and it restricts public awareness campaigns of independent family planning organizations, the Times reports. "Whenever you talk about condoms it's a little bit difficult," Olive said (Mydans, New York Times, 4/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.