MANILA, Philippines—Catholic Church officials on Friday said the public should not judge people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes the dreaded Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Fr. Dan Cancino, regional coordinator of Southeast Asia HIV and AIDS Catholic Network, said people with HIV should be given emotional and spiritual support instead of being discriminated against.
The rate of HIV infection continues to rise in the Philippines, one of only five countries where the HIV/AIDS incidence is increasing.
“The first question should not be, ‘How did you get infected?,’” Cancino posted on the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) news website.
“A lot of people with HIV want to change their behavior but do not have the support,” added Cancino, who has been serving for the last eight years in the HIV ministry.
Msgr. Robert Vitillo, a special adviser on HIV and AIDS of Caritas Internationalis, said discrimination against people with HIV had remained a “very serious” problem in the Philippines.
“We still have here in the Philippines a very serious problem with stigma and rejection even by family members so we need to teach people to take care of those in their families and those in their neighborhood living with HIV,” said Vitillo.
Sr. Amy Torres, a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, said that besides providing counseling and the sacraments, the religious serving in the HIV ministry could also offer “acceptance.”
“Just love them,” Torres said, who has been giving support to HIV victims since she returned from Lebanon.
According to the Department of Health (DOH), there were 295 new HIV cases in October, 48 percent higher compared to the same period in 2011.
“Most of the cases (93 percent) were males. (Their) median age was 28 years. Forty-six percent (137) of the reported cases were from the National Capital Region (NCR),” the DOH said.
It said most of the new cases (286) were infected due to sexual contact (286) while the remaining nine shared needles.
“Males having sex with other males (83 percent) were the predominant type of sexual transmission. Most (93 percent) of the cases were still asymptomatic at the time of reporting,” the DOH said.
Gay activists have accused the Church of “consistently” undermining the HIV response in the Philippines through its “rejection of evidence-based strategies that countries all over the world used to halt their HIV epidemics.”