For decades, the Philippines dodged the global AIDS crisis. Recent data from the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Bureau, however, reveal a worrying increase in infection rates.

The first HIV infection was reported in the Philippines in 1984. Up until December 2015, a total of 30,356 cases were reported – 85 per cent of these in the last five years.

This upsurge puts the Philippines at risk of a ‘full-blown AIDS epidemic’, according to the UN. Wanggo Gallaga, a writer and HIV-positive activist, says the government should urgently educate Filipinos about HIV.

‘They use the rhetoric of this epidemic being a moral issue,’ says Gallaga. ‘They always give in to conservative views regarding sex and HIV.’

But against this backdrop of a growing health crisis, the Philippine Congress recently eliminated contraceptive funding from the 2016 national budget. This cuts vital support for lower-income Filipinos who rely on state-provided contraceptive services for protection from sexually transmitted diseases, as well as safe birth-spacing and family planning. 

The United Nations Population Fund has criticized the congressional action as a threat to ‘the basic human right to health, as well as the right to reproductive choices’. 

At the risk of attracting the ire of the Catholic Church, the government should keep on distributing free condoms, especially to the poor.

Iris Gonzales