Philippines Health Secretary Criticizes Human Rights Watch Report Alleging Failure To Promote Condom Use
The Philippine Department of Health on Wednesday expressed disappointment over a report released on Monday by Human Rights Watch that said the government's failure to promote condoms could result in an "explosion" in HIV/AIDS cases among the Filipino population, Asia Pulse reports (Asia Pulse, 5/6). 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. 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/5). Philippine Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said, "When you listen to a statement like that, you have to think of it as how the prevention works. (They are) saying that condom [use] is the most effective way of preventing HIV. But saying that to get condoms for free to stop the AIDS epidemic ... you are making a lot of assumptions there."
Catholic Church Opposition
Dayrit said that although the government does not purchase condoms with national funds to distribute to Filipinos free of charge, DOH does provide the public with free condoms that are donated from the private sector and local government agencies, according to Asia Pulse. "The people that use condoms will use condoms whether they buy [them or get them] for free," Dayrit said, asking, "If you don't want to use condoms and I force you to use condoms, is that a human rights violation for you?" In 2003, legislation that would have authorized the use of national funds to purchase condoms and other contraceptives was defeated by conservative groups, according to Asia Pulse. The government does not directly purchase condoms because the Catholic Church, which is influential in the country, opposes their use (Asia Pulse, 5/6). 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, 5/5).