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Sunday, July 29, 2012

For the record: Bishop Broderick Pabillo et al in defense of the Church's position towards HIV-AIDS and HIV-AIDS victime

In recent days a variety of articles have appeared in the Philippine media, blaming the Catholic Church for the spread of AIDS! Why? Because, according to these reports, the Church condemns the use of condoms, and thus it can be assumed that this condemnation is obeyed by men who have sexual relations with other men! A patently illogical criticism, as practicing homosexuals are evidently not obeying the Catholic Church in the first place. 

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Monday, July 23rd, 2012

This refers to “Overlooked epidemic” (Inquirer, 7/8/12) on the rising number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines. Surprisingly, the editorial failed to focus on where the disease actually is and those most at risk. Without focus, we end up just shooting in the dark. The Church also becomes victim of the haphazard criticism that it “has not been of much help, with its continued opposition to the use of condoms.” This statement overlooks vital facts.

Worldwide, the Catholic Church provides over 25 percent of all health care for those living with HIV/AIDS. In the Philippines, the Catholic bishops have shown concern on the issue as far back as 1993 with its pastoral letter “In the Compassion of Jesus” and “Who is my Neighbor?” in 2011. The Philippine Catholic HIV & AIDS Network (PhilCHAN), under the guidance of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, is engaged in a values-based prevention campaign in schools and parishes; actively promotes voluntary counseling and HIV testing for early diagnosis and treatment, as well as behavior change; provides psycho-spiritual accompaniment to those newly diagnosed with the virus, and has set up a modest fund for livelihood support. The Church is at the frontline of the battle against AIDS, helping—and supported by many NGOs—in government efforts to combat this deadly disease. It may thus be unfair, even a sign of ignorance or prejudice, to claim that the Church has not been of much help.

On condoms, well, it does not support the widespread distribution of condoms because there is no evidence that the strategy is effective at a population-wide level. Dr. Edward Green, former director of the prestigious AIDS Prevention Research Project at Harvard University, wrote that scientific studies in the Lancet, Science and British Medical Journal confirmed that “condoms have not worked as a primary intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa.” This can be explained by inconsistent condom use and by the phenomenon of “risk compensation” whereby an individual who thinks he is protected actually takes more risks.

The editorial surprisingly also overlooks the group most at risk of HIV, the so-called MSM, males who have sex with other males. Eighty-five percent of the new cases of HIV in the Philippines this year involve MSM. If we want to target the epidemic, we need to target the most at risk groups. The USAID report from 2001, clearly stated that “the Church is not a hindrance to the high-risk groups…. where the rise in HIV is happening…. Those men probably do not have hesitations about condoms because of their Catholic faith.” It would thus be ludicrous and rather short-sighted to blame the spread of HIV in the MSM group on the Church.

Those who blandly promote condom use as a magic panacea for the MSM group are doing our brothers a great disservice and an injustice.

—BISHOP BRODERICK S. PABILLO, bishop-advisor and CBCP-NASSA national director; DR. JAMES MCTAVISH, FMVD, MD, FRCSed, MA(Bioethics), STL; SR. PILAR VERZOSA, RGS;

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