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Philippines Facing HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Health Secretary Says; Piot Criticizes Catholic Opposition to Condom Use

February 23, 2005

The Philippines might be seeing the beginning of an underlying HIV/AIDS epidemic, as health officials are worried that the actual number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country might be much higher than the number of reported cases, Philippines Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said on Tuesday at an international conference in the country's capital, Manila, AFP/Global Nation reports. "We in the Philippines are sitting on the tip of an iceberg, and we don't know how big the base is," Dayrit said. According to recent data, the country has recorded about 2,200 HIV cases and 676 AIDS cases, but the Philippines Department of Health and the World Health Organization estimate that there were 10,000 HIV-positive people living in the country at the end of 2003, AFP/Global Nation reports. Dayrit warned that HIV/AIDS is no longer limited to commercial sex workers and their clients, saying that the disease "cuts across all boundaries." The fight against HIV/AIDS needs to be "brought out into the open," and sex education in schools must be improved, Dayrit said. "Young people need to be told that they are not invincible and we have to start telling people that they should start taking responsibility for their own sexual behavior," he added (AFP/Global Nation, 2/22).

Condoms "Key" in AIDS Fight, Piot Says
UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot on Monday at a news conference criticized the Philippines' Roman Catholic Church for opposing the use of condoms to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, Reuters reports. The Catholic Church, which has a "strong influence" over government policy in the Philippines, has "refused" to condone condom use to prevent disease transmission, instead encouraging people to use natural birth control methods or abstain from sex, according to Reuters. "Church leaders should not make statements that will kill people," Piot said, adding, "Accessibility of condoms is one of the key elements in fighting AIDS." Piot also signed an agreement between UNAIDS and the Asian Development Bank to strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region, Reuters reports (Reuters, 2/21). As part of the agreement, UNAIDS and ADB will work together to engage political leaders and government and private agencies in the fight against HIV/AIDS, strengthen national capacity in the region and generate additional funding for treatment and prevention programs, according to a UNAIDS/ADB release (UNAIDS/ADB release, 2/22).

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