Gay sex fuels HIV rise in Catholic Philippines

Influential church forbids the use of condoms which is fuelling an alarming rise of HIV infections.


Afp July 26, 2012

MANILA: Gay sex in a conservative Catholic society where the influential church forbids the use of condoms is fuelling an alarming rise of HIV infections in the Philippines, experts warn.

The Southeast Asian country is facing a HIV epidemic, with sex between men making up nearly 90 percent of all new cases, according to the health department and the United Nations' Development Programme (UNDP).

Ten new infections are being detected every day, three times the rate of just a few years ago, the UNDP said.

Although the total of 9,669 confirmed cases is relatively small in a population of nearly 100 million people, authorities acknowledge many more cases likely remain undetected and point to the concerning upward trend.

The Philippines is one of only seven countries globally where HIV cases have risen by 25 percent or more since 2001, according to the UNDP.

"This is a worrying explosion of HIV cases marked by a shift in the way the virus is transmitted," Philip Castro, the UNDP's HIV/AIDS programme officer in the Philippines, told AFP.

He said 87 percent of new infections were attributed to unprotected men-to-men sex (MSM), in a country where condom use overall is one of the lowest in Asia.

"What's more alarming is that more than 60 percent of (those engaging in) MSM had reported having unsafe sex in their last contact," Castro said.

Lack of public education about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as the shame of living with the disease, also prevent many from acknowledging infections and seeking help, health experts said.

They lay a lot of the blame on the powerful Catholic Church, of which 80 percent of the population are followers, for spreading a conservative message they say has led to a lack of understanding and tolerance about condoms.

Unprotected sex remains extremely common in the gay community, according to Humphrey Gorriceta, who contracted HIV after having unprotected sex with multiple male partners.

The 37-year-old former art gallery manager is now campaigning to raise public awareness about the dangers of unsafe sex and help other people infected with HIV.

"I know a lot of people living with HIV that are not allowed to go to school, to attend church services and gain access to certain health services," he told AFP.

"HIV is like the modern leprosy, except it is hidden."

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