Philippine Government’s Failure To Promote Condoms Could Result in ‘Explosion’ of HIV/AIDS, Report Says
Although the prevalence of HIV in the Philippines is relatively low, the country's failure to promote condoms could result in an "explosion" in the disease, according to a report released on Monday by Human Rights Watch, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/4). UNAIDS estimates that 9,400 of the country's 84 million inhabitants are HIV-positive, which is only 0.1% of the adult population. However, no one is sure exactly how many Filipinos have the virus, and estimates of the number of HIV-positive people range from 1,810 to 100,000 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/21/03). The 70-page report, titled "Unprotected: Sex, Condoms and the Human Right to Health in the Philippines," was based on interviews with 35 people living with or at high-risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and about 60 representatives from government agencies, donor governments and nongovernmental organizations ("Unprotected: Sex, Condoms and the Human Right to Health in the Philippines," 5/4). According to the report, the Philippine government has impeded access to condoms, shifted funding from comprehensive sex education to abstinence education programs, refused to buy condoms with public funds and allowed local governments to make ordinances prohibiting condoms from public health facilities. In addition, the report says that the government has failed to "counter false scientific claims" made by the Catholic Church about the effectiveness of condoms. Sex workers interviewed by HRW said that local governments administer HIV tests without informed consent and that police officers routinely cite condom possession as sufficient evidence to arrest and prosecute sex workers, according to the report. Such practices "radically increase the likelihood of a rapid outbreak and spread of HIV/AIDS among populations at high risk," according to an HRW release. In addition, the report criticizes USAID for its 2002 decision to stop donating condoms and other contraceptives to the country (HRW release, 5/5).
The report recommends that the Philippine government:
- use national funds to ensure adequate condom supplies;
- develop a national condom promotion program;
- take steps to counter misinformation about the effectiveness of condoms;
- conduct research on HIV prevention among sex workers;
- expand information campaigns among men who have sex with men;
- increase access to information for migrant workers; and
- prohibit "arbitrary interference" with efforts to promote condom usage.
In addition, the report recommends that local governments repeal ordinances that prohibit condom distribution in public health facilities, stop using condoms as evidence for arrest and prosecution of sex workers, ensure informed consent for all HIV testing and implement comprehensive HIV prevention programs. The report also says that the United States and other donor nations should help address condom shortages in the Philippines and withhold funding from programs that make false statements about condoms ("Unprotected: Sex, Condoms and the Human Right to Health in the Philippines," 5/4). "Silence and lies about condoms undermine HIV prevention for all Filipinos, and condom shortages condemn the poorest to facing the highest risk," report author Jonathan Cohen said, adding, "To deny people condoms is to infringe on their right to life" (HRW release, 5/5). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.