Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DOH chief to keep on distributing condoms to stop HIV-AIDS

photo source: pinoy

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 13:36:00 02/23/2010

Filed Under: Health, Government, Churches (organisations), Religion & Belief

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Who’s afraid of the Catholic Church?

Definitely not the Department of Health (DoH). Unflinching in its condom distribution program to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said it would continue giving away condoms, or prophylactics, to “people who need them.”

According to Cabral, this is one of the “very many things that are going to reduce remarkably the growth of HIV-AIDS in the Philippines.”

She said the country has been facing the threat of an epidemic for a few years now but has not done anything about it. "We really need to do something about it. It is an epidemic. Not just a scare. It was an epidemic a few years ago but hindi pa napapansin (but it was not noticed)," Cabral said.

Other DOH strategies include “education of young people, children in school, those in the workplace and Filipinos who go overseas, as well as tourists and transients who come to the Philippines,” Cabral told the Philippine Daily Inquirer

When interviewed, Cabral pointed out that no funds were appropriated by Congress for the procurement of condoms in the 2010 DOH budget. “It's not written in the 2010 budget,” she said.

Asked why, Cabral said it seemed the HIV-AIDS problem was “not recognized (by both policy-makers and legislators)...People were just watching.”

In the absence of locally sourced funds, the DOH head said they would tap stand-by funds provided by “international agencies.”

“For example, in the Philippines, there is a program called GFATM, which means Global Fund for the Control of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.”

Cabral said money for the GFATM would come from a private fund to which philanthropists such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been contributing.

Cabral revealed that the fund intended for the Philippines amounted to $215 million. "But this is spread over the years,” she explained

“Although only about $85 million have been released for AIDS, I think there's an amount - $19 million (over P850 million) - in that fund not just for this year but spread over the years. And part of that fund is for the purchase of prophylactics or condoms. So our national government actually signed and committed to this thing. Kasi tinanggap natin 'yung fund (Because we accepted the fund),” she said.

On the Catholic Church's opposition to DOH's condom distribution program, Cabral said “very obvious naman 'yan (Their opposition is quite obvious).”

“Di naman 'yan tago, di ba (That’s not been hidden)? They are very open about it,” she said. But Cabral in pushing for condom distribution said the country continued to exist as a “democratic secular state.”

“We are not a religious state, such as Iran. We are a secular state where there is separation of church from state,” she pointed out.

Cabral emphasized that “while it is very important for us to find out what they think, to cooperate with them in areas where we can be cooperating with, the government is the government and must do what it thinks is right for everybody.”

"Not everybody in the Philippines belongs to one church,” she also stressed.

At the same time, Cabral said they would always be "willing to discuss and negotiate (with Catholic Church officials).”

Some Catholic bishops wanted Cabral kicked out of office because of the DoH condom project, which they said could endanger the people's morals.

The DoH distributed free condoms on Valentine's Day as part of its campaign to stem the spread of HIV, which causes AIDS.

The bishops said people should follow the teachings of the Church and respect the sanctity of their bodies to stop the spread of the disease.

But Cabral said the agency's intensified condom distribution program was justified.
“We should be properly alarmed because as the (HIV-AIDS) data show, HIV-AIDS is an escalating problem,” she said.

She said that three years ago, one person was diagnosed as having HIV-AIDS every day. But in 2009, the rate rose to two persons with HIV-AIDS every day.

During the past two months, HIV-AIDS cases have “gone up to four persons diagnosed (with the disease) every day.”

“If you look at the graph on the incidence of HIV-AIDS over the past two decades, you will see that in the past, and I think this is why we became a little complacent about the problem, the doubling time for HIV-AIDS was 10 years. In other words, it took 10 years for the cases to double from, say 100 to 200.”

Today, “the doubling time is one year,” she said. “So, at this rate, now we have a total of 4,400 cases of HIV-AIDS known to us. At the end of the year, that would be 8,800. If the doubling rate remains stable, at the end of 2011, that's going to be 17,600. At the end of 2011, that's going to be 34,400,” she warned.

"We really need to do something about it,” Cabral said.

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