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EDITORIAL - HIV on the rise

Perhaps the reporting system has improved. Or perhaps HIV cases are truly on the rise in the Philippines, as public health officials have reported. In the latest UNAIDS Report on Global AIDS Epidemic, the Philippines was one of just nine countries reporting a 25 percent increase in HIV/AIDS cases from 2001 to 2011.

The other countries are Bangladesh, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Sri Lanka, according to the report prepared by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. While the actual numbers are much lower in the Philippines, some African countries that have been hit hard by HIV/AIDS have recorded greater progress in fighting the disease.

In Zambia and Zimbabwe, for example, new infections declined by 50 percent in the past decade, according to the UN report. Also registering significant progress were Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, India, Malawi, Myanmar, Namibia, Rwanda, Thailand and Togo.

Health authorities attribute the rising cases in the Philippines to low condom use. The highest increase has also been noted in cases of men having unprotected sex with other men or MSM, according to the Department of Health and UNAIDS. The prevalence of the disease among MSM in key cities is 13 times higher than in the general population, health authorities report.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome used to be a death sentence for those afflicted. Advances in medicine, however, have made AIDS a manageable disease requiring long-term maintenance. Treatment can be expensive, and prevention is a better option. Thailand, which gained notoriety for its sex industry, tamed its HIV/AIDS problem by aggressively promoting the use of condoms for safe sex. Many of the other countries that recorded a decline in new AIDS cases did the same.

Even Pope Benedict XVI has said in an interview that using condoms could save lives by preventing the spread of the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus. In the Philippines, however, even mere information programs to promote safe sex are blocked by groups opposing the use of condoms and other contraceptives. MSM can spread HIV to heterosexual women. Unless the government moves decisively, the country could one day become a global hotspot for HIV/AIDS.

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