December 8th, 2016
The murders and incarceration involved in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs aren’t the only ways that the Philippines government is damaging its citizens’ health. According to a new Human Rights Watch report, the Philippines now has one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the Asia-Pacific Region. This is particularly pronounced among men who have sex with men, among whom the HIV rate has increased tenfold in the past five years, standing at more than 5 percent in at least 11 cities.
This problem long predates Duterte’s election earlier this year, but is being prolonged and exacerbated by continuing national and local government policies. These include inadequate sex education in schools and obstacles to people obtaining condoms or HIV tests—for example, people under 18 can’t obtain either without parental consent. There are regulatory obstacles to advertising condoms. And existing anti-HIV programs tend to focus on certain groups, such as female sex workers, while ignoring others.
Cultural factors also play a part, including the influence of the Catholic Church and taboos on underage or gay sex.
In a situation that demands immediate action—including a campaign to promote condom use among men who have sex with men—Duterte has yet to make any specific HIV policy announcements. He has previously made both conciliatory and homophobic statements about LGBTQ rights.
In the Human Rights Watch video below, young men living with HIV in the Philippines talk about how lack of information and social stigma made them unaware of the need to buy condoms, or afraid to do so.
“People infected with HIV are getting younger and younger,” says one AIDS activist.