Alarming HIV/AIDS pandemic: What should gov’t do?

(The version of this article was first published on the already defunct Philippine Review blog and republished on Yahoo! Voices)

The alarming HIV/AIDS pandemic posted about 30 million people died; about 1.8 million people die every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2011 report.

“Not only is it unethical not to protect these groups; it makes no sense from a health perspective. It hurts us all,” a remark [1] of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressing the lack of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) services for marginalized groups, including men who have sex with men (MSM) in this global epidemic.

This heart-rending remark from the UN secretary-general paints an enormous distress call as the alarming HIV/AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is continuously wreaking havoc mostly to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons.

Let me expand and try to draw some points on how this remark becomes paradoxical in the Philippine settings, as follows:

1. The US-based Pew Research Center (READ: US Election media coverage, integrity drops) released a study that showed the Philippines remained as having the majority number of Christians. Ninety-three percent of them eat the entire total population of 93.3 million Filipinos. Not only that, all over Asia, the Philippines still on top and ranked 5th all over the world. [2]
2. The Philippines is a democratic and a republican state; [3] the 1987 Philippine Constitution acts as the country’s supreme law of the land, whereby all laws passed shall not be inimical to its principles and aspirations upholding a government of laws not of men.

Now, to simply put it this way: Not only is it unethical for the Church (READ: Reviving the death penalty in the Philippines: Does it matter?) and for those men of honor to denounce LBTQI+ perspectives immoral and to curtail the equal protection of the law and abridge the basic human rights.

It just doesn’t make sense from a Biblical perspective, where all children are equal in the eyes of God, and from a legal perspective, where all men are created equal.

It just degrades the Church from deviating it just because of canons and dogmas made only by men. It also does penalize the state from denying it just because of human perception and prejudice.

The alarming HIV/AIDS pandemic and its identity

Throughout the global journey of this alarming HIV/AIDS pandemic, significant, high levels of HIV infection have been found among men who have sex with men (MSM) in many countries. Historically, AIDS was first discovered among self-identified young homosexual men in the United States of America.

Based on Progress Report 2011[4], an estimated 2.7 million people around the world were newly infected with HIV in 2010. It is alarming that an estimated 390,000 of them were children.

Moreover, despite the diligent implementation of HIV programs and worldwide funding from member states, new HIV infections are significantly rising in the regions of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome’s (UNAIDS) Investment Framework,[5] the current annual international funding for HIV programs fell last year. It was estimated to be only 67% of the US$24 billion maximum needed annual fund by 2015 to sustain an effective, comprehensive response to the crisis.

Meanwhile, WHO has been working with member states in optimizing HIV programs such as treatment, prevention and diagnostics, and finding ways for integration and efficiencies of the said programs.

Progress Report 2011 disclosed that sub-Saharan Africa (comprises of Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, Swaziland, and Zambia) has nearly 68% of people with HIV all over the world; 59% of it are women. This marks Africa as the capital region of HIV infected people in the world.

On the other side of the world, Asia has about 4.8 million people with HIV. About 2.3 million of it came from India—the capital region of HIV infected people around Asia.

In the Philippines, according to bulatlat.com, “On December 2010 alone, 174 new cases [of HIV infections] were reported, representing a 38-percent increase compared to the same month in 2009….”

How does HIV/AIDS become prevalent?

The underlying question behind making this crisis prevalent is based on several factors that may be independent or intertwining with each other such as the aspect of behavioral, biological, or social and cultural. These aspects are general perspectives in looking into the answers to the question.

Alarming HIV/AIDS pandemic: What should government do?

Throughout the global journey of this alarming HIV/AIDS pandemic, significant, high levels of HIV infection have been found among men who have sex with men in many countries. (Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels)

According to HIV, AIDS and Men Who Have Sex with Men article, [6] the above aspects are considered why HIV became prevalent in MSM. The article disclosed that in an incident that an individual (another man) has sexually transmitted infection (STI) and engaged in unprotected sex, this can lead to a biological factor that increases the risk of becoming infected with HIV.

In the behavioral aspect, the article probed that certain behavior increases the risk of becoming infected with HIV. Such behavior describes as having multiple sex partners, not using a condom regularly, taking alcohol or drugs, and being complacent towards safer sex.

In social and cultural aspects, the article insisted that societies or governments that are in denial about MSM, and in the societies where it becomes a taboo subject in their cultures may lead as significant factors contributing to the rise of HIV-infected individuals.

Furthermore, in countries where sex is commercial, transgender or female sex workers may find it difficult to convince their clients to use condoms. This may also increase the risk of becoming infected with HIV.

How can laws mitigate the alarming HIV prevalence?

Studies probed and generally concluded that the rise of HIV infections in a certain region was prevalent in men who have sex with men.

The most alarming was that those MSM in low-income and middle-income countries have sufficient or correct knowledge about HIV. Later on their life, in the worst case, did only they know that AIDS has already developed.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michael Sidiba during the 2009 forum on “HIV, Human Rights and Men Who Have Sex with Men” remarked that [7] “It remains [an] undeniable fact in all regions of the world, including here in the US, that men who have sex with men lack universal access to HIV services.”

According to the study conducted in the article, HIV, AIDS and Men Who Have Sex with Men, it says, [8]

A major reason for this shortcoming is the fact that many countries have laws banning same-sex relations. A 2009 report revealed that same-sex relations between consenting adults are a criminal offense in 80 countries. In five of these countries (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and parts of Nigeria and Somalia), it is punishable by [the] death penalty.

The study further asserts that [9]

Where such laws are in place, governments are unlikely to promote any sort of HIV interventions aimed at men who have sex with men; groups or individuals who [do] try to carry out such campaigns, as much as men who have sex with men themselves, may face violence or arrest.

Conclusion

WHO acknowledges the critical role of MSM in the alarming rise of HIV infections globally. In consonance, the World Health Assembly adopted the new Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2011–2015 [10] with its comprehensive perspectives to eliminating new HIV infections to infants and young people and reducing AIDS-related death by 50%.

Studies documented that the vast majority of new HIV infections result from unprotected heterosexual intercourse and parent-offspring transmission of infection.

However, other studies claimed that the prevalence of HIV infections resulted from the government’s denial and constant Church persecutions in recognizing the legitimacy of LGBTQI+ persons.

HIV prevalence is underrepresented

Studies further asserted that in this way, LGBTQI+ individuals were forced into hiding themselves and let their vulnerability to that infection remained threatened and uncontrolled.

Moreover, there are claims that the data on the prevalence of HIV in a certain area of regions are manipulated, distorted, and exaggerated, or underrepresented. Proponents of that claims are unified by a fact that the prevalence of HIV is alarming.

However, what they did not concur with is through the objective basis of research because it cannot be denied that most respondents are either true to themselves or the opposite. No one can assert the veracity of it.

So, how can we justify the objectivity to be the dominant factor in determining the right data?

Other proponents assert that it cannot be done unless the government recognizes the imminence of the crisis and the presence of the people infected and those vulnerable to HIV.

Studies cited India’s decision [11] in July 2009 that repealed the law criminalizing homosexuality has seen significant development to improving the country’s provision or funding for HIV programs—treatments, prevention, and care for those infected with HIV.

However, it can be questioned based on the Progress Report 2011 [12] that nearly 49% of all people with HIV in Asia have come from India.

Another one was Kenya, [13] where homosexuality is illegal; HIV prevalence in some areas soared high.

In South Africa, where homosexuality is legal, HIV prevalence in some areas was likely quadrupled in the general population.

Given these premises, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is dependent on some other factors outside the premise of recognizing the legitimacy of LGBTQI+ persons.

Factors such as biological, behavioral, and social or cultural played a crucial role in either mitigating or aggravating the prevalence of HIV/AIDS infection.

Governments should rather pass laws

Meanwhile, in other perspectives, the government’s cooperation and initiative to pass laws recognizing LGBTQI+ persons is undeniably playing as a mitigating factor through legitimate provisioning of HIV programs.  Doing so, LGBTQI+ persons and HIV-infected individuals into hiding may go out openly without hesitation from persecution and discrimination.

As much as this crisis is as urgent as a global fight, UNAIDS, during Dec. 10, 2011, Human Rights Day, [14] calls for greater leadership to countries in protecting, promoting, and upholding human rights for all people infected with and vulnerable to HIV.

It must be understood that the only way for a society or a country to achieve serious positive developments on this issue of gender equality and the fight for HIV, is to have a state that recognizes first the equality of individuals before the law and before human perceptions and prejudices.

For the Church to understand it better, it must first adhere to the basic Christian teaching of equality of man before the eyes of God and before anyone else. For at the end of the day, who will judge the living and the dead? And in the context of law, who will go above all else before the law? ▲

__________________________

1 HIV, AIDS and Men Who Have Sex with Men, 4th par. Avert.org
2 Philippines still top Christian country in Asia, 5th in the world by Lawrence de Guzman, Inquirer Research; AFP. Philippine Daily Inquirer, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
3 Article II of the 1987 Philippine Constitution
4 Key facts on global HIV epidemic and progress in 2010, based on Progress Report 2011: Global HIV /AIDS Response. World Health Organization.
5 Ibid., under “Beyond 2011: Treatments gains amid funding uncertainties.”
6 HIV, AIDS and Men Who Have Sex with Men; under “What makes men who have sex with men vulnerable to HIV?”
7 Ibid., under “Responding to HIV among men who have sex with men: the challenges”; below 2nd par.
8 Ibid., 3rd par.
9 Ibid., third line, 3rd par.
10 Key facts on global HIV epidemic and progress in 2010, based on Progress Report 2011: Global HIV /AIDS Response; under “Beyond 2011: Treatments gains amid funding uncertainties,” last par. World Health Organization.
11 HIV, AIDS and Men Who Have Sex with Men; under “Responding to HIV among men who have sex with men: the challenges”; 7th par. Avert.org.
12 Key facts on HIV epidemic and progress in regions and countries in 2010 based on Progress Report 2011: Global HIV/AIDS Response; under “Asia”, 3rd par. World Health Organization.
13 HIV, AIDS and Men Who Have Sex with Men; under “Men who have sex with men and HIV – the global picture”; 3rd par. Avert.org.
14 Press Statement: UNAIDS calls for greater leadership in addressing human rights violations in the AIDS response. Geneva, Dec. 9, 2011.

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