Since 2012, every three hours a new case of HIV is reported in the Philippines. Although the Philippines is considered a low-HIV-prevalence country, it is one of seven nations worldwide where HIV incidence is rapidly on the rise with an increase of over 25 percent in documented cases reported since 2001. The vast majority of diagnosed Filipinos are infected through unprotected sexual contact. There is much talk of political will and social change to address the alarming trend of HIV transmission in the Philippines, yet stigma and discrimination in the largely Catholic nation persist. In this type of climate, with its taboo on the topic of sex, it is not surprising that it is estimated that more than 11,000 Filipinos are living with HIV but are undocumented and unaware of their infection.
Nineteen government treatment hubs across the country offer testing, counseling and anti-retroviral treatment subsidized through the government’s Department of Health and the PhilHealth insurance program. Yet many who are HIV positive do not voluntarily undergo testing for the virus and subsequently do not receive treatment – choosing to suffer and die in silence to be spared the stigma while risking the chance of spreading the disease.
The statistics alone are startling but it is the personal and human stories that are most tragic. An article published in Al Jazeera earlier this year described one organization’s efforts to provide comfort to the infected, Positive Action Foundation Philippines. Roberto Ruiz, co-founder of the foundation, has been living with AIDS for over 20 years and acknowledges that there are many who seek the foundation’s help who have been abandoned by family and friends leaving them nowhere to turn but to organization’s like Positive Action Foundation for counseling, support, and referrals.
Children, too, are not left untouched by the upward trend of HIV transmission in the Philippines. According to UNICEF “most Filipino children do not know that their parents are living with HIV.” The parents attempt to shield their children from both discrimination and stigma but leave them ever more vulnerable as they grow sick and die. Children end up denied the comfort of family stability as infected parents are eventually unable to care for them. UNICEF also reports that “families are torn apart, with children moving in with relatives [and] siblings getting separated from each other.” Children become all the more susceptible to exploitation and abuse on the street as a result of seeking labor for their survival and the survival of their families. The impact of the disease on individuals, families, and communities is becoming a stark reality as the Philippines struggles to rein in the rate of infection.
Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center, to be located in San Jose Nueva Ecija, will not only serve the city but also the surrounding barangay. As a reliable community resource, the Center will offer free HIV testing, referrals, as well as condoms, to help stop the spread of HIV. Condoms alone are not the answer – education and awareness are tools that Alay Foundation seeks to implement throughout the community. Armed with accurate information Filipinos are empowered to make healthy choices. As part of the community, Alay Foundation recognizes outreach as a valuable instrument to promote the health of individuals and families.