QUEZON City, March 28, 2015—The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has called on authorities to give equal attention to women in the prevention and treatment of HIV cases in the country.
In a statement, NCCP secretary-general Rex Reyes, raises concern that Filipinas living with HIV have been pushed out of focus in recent years, although the likes of Dolzura Cortez and Sarah Jane Salazar became the face of HIV and AIDS in the late 1980s until the 1990s, showing the Filipino public how those involved in the sex trade and even wives of migrant workers, seafarers especially, are highly prone to the infection.
As of December 2014, the Department of Health (DOP) recorded a total of 2,098 cases of Filipinas with HIV, which is only nine percent of the cumulative number of reported HIV infections in the country since 1984.
Reyes notes the spread of HIV and AIDS in the country has been categorized by UNAIDS as a “concentrated epidemic among key populations such as males who have sex with males and people who inject drugs in certain geographic areas.”
35-year old “Jesusa,” herself living with HIV and a member of support group Babae Plus, argued during NCCP’s International Women’s Month celebration that the fewness of Filipinas with HIV/AIDS may be the reason why they are not much noticed.
In response to this problem, the group launched an HIV/AIDS education drive advocating non-discrimination against women with this disease.
According to Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, NCCP’s Ecumenical Education and Nurture the NCCP program secretary, gender imbalances worsen the impact of HIV, disproportionately subjecting women to unequal power relations, violence, discrimination, and poverty.
For Phoebelyn Carreon, program coordinator, women living with HIV prove finding obstetric and gynecological services in their treatment centers poses a challenge.
While Global Fund provides free antiretroviral medication, she laments health services for women are not always within reach.
“While we educate our church on HIV and AIDS prevention, we do what we can to raise funds for the needs of women living with HIV, who mostly are unemployed,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Caramanzana calls on the government to address the structural causes that continue to make women and girls vulnerable.
Poor, abused Pinays
Despite poverty alleviation programs, she bemoans women and children remain among the poorest sectors in Philippine society, adding that every 16 minutes, one woman or child experiences physical harms, and in every 53 minutes, another is sexually abused .
“If this continues, HIV infection and AIDS related deaths will persist among women and girls,” Caramanzana laments. (Raymond A Sebastián/CBCP News)