EDITORIAL – Two decades of AIDS

The incidence of AIDS in this country is perceived to be so low people can afford to make jokes about it. We like to say that the AIDS virus cannot find suitable hosts here because we live in an environment so heavily polluted and teeming with disease-causing organisms we have developed immunity to killer germs.

But while the number of AIDS cases here is low compared to other countries, the figures are nothing to laugh about. In 1984, when the world was just starting to become aware of a new deadly virus, two AIDS cases were reported in the Philippines. Last year there were 309 cases of HIV infections recorded by an AIDS advocacy group, with 36 full-blown AIDS cases and 18 deaths. This year 138 infections have been reported so far, with 11 full-blown cases. From January 1984 to May this year, the advocacy group recorded nearly 3,000 cases of HIV infections. Those were the cases that were diagnosed properly or reported to authorities. Because of the stigma still attached to the disease, it is not unusual for those afflicted with HIV or AIDS to conceal their ailment. How many cases have gone unreported?

As the 20th World AIDS Day is marked this weekend, the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS reported that 33.2 million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus. Of that figure, 15.4 million are women and 2.5 million are below 15 years old. Last year, 2.1 million people worldwide died of AIDS; another 2.5 million contracted HIV.

Slowing down the relentless progress of the disease is possible – but expensive. For millions of HIV/AIDS sufferers in the developing world, those cocktails of AIDS-mitigating drugs are beyond their reach. Governments can fight back by preventing the spread of the virus through safe sex.

HIV can be transmitted through infected needles, contaminated blood used in transfusions, and the most common method – sexual contact. Sexual abstinence, as advised by the Catholic Church, obviously will prevent infection. But as we have seen in recent scandals, even certain priests are unable to control their sexual urges. A more practical option is to give the public sufficient information on safe sex, but this is unlikely to happen under an administration that allows the Church to dictate national population policies. HIV/AIDS figures in this country have risen steadily in the past two decades, and the trend is bound to continue.

EDITORIAL
The Philippine Star

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