We’ve been denied gold medals in prestiguous sports. The gold medal continues to elude us in Olympic boxing, despite the fact that we were able produce a boxing legend in the name of Manny Pacquiao. Despite the immense popularity of basketball, the last time we garnered a gold medal in the FIBA basketball tournaments was in 1985.
But we may finally garner a gold medal, though it may not be something we want to be proud of. “The Philippines is winning the gold medal in Asia for the fastest rising [HIV] epidemic in those populations,” said Michael Kirby, who served as commissioner for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS). According to Kirby, the number of people infected with HIV in the at-risk groups – i.e., men who have sex with men, gay men, sex workers, transgenders and injecting drug users – has grown by 425 percent in the last five years.
He goes on to call it a “national disgrace,” adding that addressing the HIV problem is not “rocket science.”
“We already know what to do about addressing HIV: condoms, needle exchange, education, testing and counseling.” insisted Kirby, who was here in Manila for a five-day speaking tour on issues dealing with HIV and judicial integrity.
In the 1990s, Thailand was able to curb the rise of HIV by, among other measures, enforcing a consistent condom use in all commercial sex establishments. Philippines, on the other hand, is turning a blind eye on sex workers, choosing instead to focus on “rescuing” them from sex establishments. Kirby in fact noted noted that there were no panel representatives from the vulnerable sectors, i.e., youth, transgenders, and sex workers.
Outside of the Philippines, condoms are prominently displayed in the top eye-level shelves of drugstores. Go to any Mercury Drug store and you will be hard-pressed to find it. I frequently have to ask a store clerk. In most convinience stores and gas station marts, condoms are sold behind the cashier counter, and I know of many people who are embarassed to ask for it.
Religious opposition is one factor why we aren’t making any progress. Close-minded die-hard Christians repeatedly criticize condom use. They oppose the reproductive health bill. It’s not surprising that many Filipinos believe that AIDS is God’s retribution on homosexuals, prostitutes, and those who patronize what the religious call “immoral behaviors.” I doubt if priests and clergymen advise their flock to wear condom.