Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sometimes 'vicious' Catholic Church can't stop Cabral

DOH to continue promoting condoms

MANILA, Philippines - The Catholic Church can be "vicious" at times, according to Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, but that doesn't mean she's going to stop promoting condoms to fight HIV/AIDS in the country.

"Of course, I am afraid of the Church. They are very powerful and they can sometimes be very vicious. I'm not exactly one who likes to live dangerously," Cabral told ANC's Dateline Philippine on Wednesday when asked if she's affected by the bishops' threats against her for advocating the use of condoms, which is seen by the church as an abortion tool.

Cabral, however, said that she'd rather live dangerously than do nothing against the very alarming rise in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines.

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed a total of 4,424 HIV/AIDS cases from 1984 to December 2009.

The highest number was recorded in 2009 with a total of 835 cases.

"At the rate we are going, in 3 years, we are going to have more than 30,000 people with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines," the health secretary said.

Cabral said that the alarming trend was the reason behind the DOH's renewed and intensified distribution of condoms to "those who cannot afford it," especially the youth.

During the week of this year's Valentine's Day celebrations, DOH officials were seen distributing free condoms in public places, including in Dangwa, Manila where many vendors sold flowers.
Each flower bouquet bought by a person or a couple came with free condoms courtesy of a private company.

Cabral has caught the ire of Catholic bishops in the country for actively distributing condoms, which is perceived by the church as a tool for abortion.

A bishop had called Cabral "immoral," and warned that one of her feet is already in hell for going against the teachings of the church.

Abstinence comes first
Cabral said that the distribution of condoms is actually the DOH's last resort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

She said the first option is abstinence, which is aligned with the Catholic Church's policy.

The health secretary, however, said she believes it is “unrealistic" to expect people to abstain from sex.

“There are a few of us who will do it, but most of the people are going to heed to their natural inclinations,” Cabral said.

She said that unlike the Catholic Church, the health department, as the guardian of health, is more concerned about people’s health than of morality.

“The Church is the guardian of morality and therefore, they should exert every effort to make sure that their teachings are heard,” she said.

Following abstinence is the promotion of monogamy, and the last option is the distribution of condoms “for people who cannot be good.”

He said the DOH provides these people “with the means to prevent HIV/AIDS, which is with the use of condoms.”

During the interview, Cabral said that she seems to be enjoying the support of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as she has not been told to stop the distribution of condoms.

Cabral said the DOH is also supported by non-government organizations (NGOs) and international groups, including an agency that includes billionaire Bill Gates as a main donor.

Aside from foreign aid, the health department has a fund of at least P2 million for the purchase and distribution of millions of condoms .

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