World

HIV numbers surging in Philippines

MANILA: HIV infections among men having sex with men in the Philippines have surged 10-fold in five years, with the authorities largely ignoring the problem, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released yesterday.

The Catholic country has one of the fastest-growing epidemics of HIV in the Asia-Pacific because successive governments have failed to promote contraceptives and give sex education to gay or bisexual men, it said.

The report said: "National education on effective HIV prevention methods is non-existent, and laws prohibit condom access and HIV testing for people under 18 without parental consent."

Out of the 35,000 cases of HIV documented in the Philippines since 1985, 81 per cent were men having sex with men, HRW said, citing government data.

The problem is quickly getting worse, with 25 new cases of HIV being documented in the Philippines every day, according to HRW's study of the government data.

"There is a very real risk of this spreading into the wider community, but authorities are doing very little about it," said HRW Philippine researcher Carlos Conde.

One of the biggest barriers is the Catholic Church, a very powerful institution in the Philippines.

About 80 per cent of the Philippine population is Catholic, and its influence has ensured abortion, divorce and same-sex marriages remain illegal.

Last week, the government announced that it planned to start distributing condoms in schools and was considering giving away HIV self-testing kits, triggering an angry reaction from Church leaders. - AFP

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