Philippines Proud of Its Low Infection Rate, Number of Cases
May 23, 2003
The Philippines has one of the lowest AIDS rates in Asia, with the number of cases among its 84 million inhabitants just 9,400 -- only 0.1 percent of people ages 15-49, according to UNAIDS. In contrast, Burma, with about half the Philippines' population, has at least 400,000 people infected with HIV.Adapted from:
"Local studies over the past 10 years show that Filipinos tend to start having sex later than in the United States, Europe and neighboring [Asian] countries," said Dr. Michael L. Tan, a medical anthropologist and AIDS expert. The surveys have shown that Filipinos typically have fewer sexual partners than do people in Asian countries with higher AIDS rates.
Government statistics show that 15 percent of heterosexual Filipino men frequent brothels, compared with 80 percent to 90 percent of Thai counterparts. Health experts also cite the low number of intravenous drug addicts. UNAIDS estimates that only 0.6 percent of those infected acquired the disease by injecting drugs, compared to 38 percent in Vietnam. But Dr. James Piad, of the government's National AIDS Council, says the virus has an explosive potential. Specifically, experts point to the millions of Filipinos who work overseas and are potential carriers of the virus.
According to the country's National Epidemiology Center, 30 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases are overseas workers. Once abroad, says Malu Marin, executive director of the nongovernmental organization Action for Health Initiatives, Filipinos "are able to reinvent their life. Basically, everybody turns a blind eye [to sexual encounters] and even encourages them."
After campaigns in the 1980s-90s, the government passed the torch of AIDS education to NGOs, which have fewer resources for spreading health messages. Moreover, the government has been leery of angering the Roman Catholic Church by promoting condom use. About 80 percent of the population is Catholic. Condoms are also unpopular with many men, and women are reluctant to ask their partners to use them, AIDS activists say. According to a 2000 study, two-thirds of sexually active males have never used condoms.
San Francisco Chronicle
05.21.03; Cecile C.A. Balgos
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