Thee Philippines is facing one of the fastest-growing epidemics of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Asia-Pacific region. According to official statistics, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) has increased tenfold in the last five years, according to a report published the nongovernmental human rights organization, Human Rights Watch in Dec. 2016.

Image/Howard the Duck
Image/Howard the Duck

The organization has criticized the Philippines government in their effort to get the epidemic under control. HIV prevention education in Philippine schools is woefully inadequate and the commercial marketing of condoms to MSM populations is nonexistent, the report notes.

They call on the new Duterte government to turn things around. “President Rodrigo Duterte has inherited a legacy of failed or counterproductive policies of previous administrations that are contributing to the alarming increase in HIV infections among men who have sex with men,” said Carlos H. Conde, Philippines researcher. “Reducing HIV transmission isn’t rocket science. But it does require the Duterte government to implement an HIV prevention program and remove obstacles to condom and HIV testing access so that young Filipinos – particularly men who have sex with men – can protect themselves from an otherwise preventable illness.”

Last week, the Philippines Department of Health (DOH) held a press conference on this topic. At Malacañang last Tuesday, DOH Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo together with Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella discussed the increasing cases of HIV/AIDS especially among the youth.

He also explained that the proposal to distribute condoms to schools was based on the current statistics in which HIV is increasing among 15-24 year olds (10,279 reported cases from January 1984 to October 2016).

The distribution of condoms will be accompanied with appropriate sex education for adolescents and parental involvement in such program. The distribution will hopefully start next year, specifically in regions with the most number of HIV cases (NCR, Region IV-A, and Region III) and in other vulnerable areas in which there is poor access to condoms.

“The Duterte government has a golden opportunity to remedy the legal and policy errors of previous administrations by implementing proven low-tech and low-cost interventions that can help stop in its tracks the country’s HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men,” Conde said. “Failure to do so will only ensure that the already alarming number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men will continue to rise.”