QUEZON City, May 11, 2015—In line with the ongoing National HIV Testing Week, a Philippine-based interfaith alliance has renewed its call for Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) of the dreaded human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), pushing for a “stigma-free, confidential, accessible, routine, and free” (SCARF) management of the global pandemic.
In a statement, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) argues that VCT for HIV is an “effective way to prevent HIV transmission and AIDS-related deaths,” offering practical ways for both HIV-negative and HIV-positive persons to “remain healthy, to access treatment, and to avoid the spread of the virus.”
“We encourage everyone to submit for VCT as a routine. In most instances, people submit for HIV testing at a late period. Late diagnosis can advance the stages of HIV leading to AIDS,” shares NCCP chair Ephraim S. Fajutagana who speaks for the coalition.
Where there is inequitable access to health facilities, goods and services, as wells as the high cost of medical care, he expects the result becomes “more tragic.”
“As regard of this [sic], we renew our call that government must invest more in the health of its citizens,” he adds.
Fajutagana also expresses alarm that 667 HIV cases have been diagnosed in the country as of March 2015.
21 infections daily
According to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines, this figure translates to roughly 21 infections per day.
Quoting the Department of Health (DOH) surveillance reports, Fajutagana notes the key populations that have accessed HIV testing services: 8 percent of males who have sex with other males (MSM), 15.2 percent of male sex workers, 5.4 percent of transgender sex workers, and 6.3 percent of people who inject drugs.
Moreover, the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey cites only 2 percent of the women aged 15-49 examined for HIV had been informed of the results of their test.
“Under the NCCP’s #PreventionNOTCondemnation campaign, we challenge the varied myths and misconceptions of our faith communities about the HIV virus and the manner of infections,” says Fajutagana.
While many still think they are immune from HIV, he points out this sense of invulnerability has become an “individual barrier to making the right decisions.”
“We are educating our religious leaders and church workers to help people understand that they are vulnerable to HIV simply because they are human. The HIV virus does not discriminate and like any virus can infect anyone,” he says.
“Even as our faith beckons us to lay our hands to those with infirmity in a loving manner, so we are called to teach that faith enlightens us in order to protect us. We preach the truth in so far as it leads us in to fuller knowledge of God who loves us and cares for us,” he adds. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)