Churches in Philippines Confront Nation's 'Hidden Epidemic' of Fast Spreading HIV/AIDS

(Photo Credit: Rev. Donald E. Messer/UMNS)Dr. Rosario Jessica Tactacan-Abrenica (right), vice president of the AIDS Society of the Philippines, points out rising HIV statistics during a workshop on AIDS and issues of human sexuality in Manila, Philippines in a photo published on October 3, 2012.

Protestant and Catholic leaders and institutions in the Philippines have recently initiated workshops on HIV and AIDS ministries to address the what the United Nations has called a "hidden epidemic" of the disease in the country which increasing at one of the fastest rates in the world.

The United Methodist Church's Manila Area Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr. told the United Methodist News Service in a report on Wednesday that he invited pastors, church workers, seminarians and university students to a one-day workshop on AIDS and issues of Human Sexuality on August 24 at Manila's Central United Methodist Church.

The event, which included lectures and discussions, was co-sponsored by the Center for the Church and Global IDS. Participants explored scientific and theological perspectives on HIV prevention care and treatment while also looking at stigma the church can place on certain groups affected, including women, men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users.

The approach toward combating the disease by Protestants in the report is the so-called "ABC" approach to HIV prevention which includes abstinence, being faithful to one's partner and condoms.

This contrasts with that of the Catholic Church, which does opposes the use of condoms. While 80 percent of the country is Catholic, 70 percent of the population supports an approach supported by the nations' president that would promote free distribution of condoms to the poor, according to the report.

Arichea said the church is being called to "respond to this emerging human emergency with new attitudes and actions focused on education, prevention and compassion."

Roman Catholic leaders in the Philippines called priests and laity to participate in AIDS Seminars.

"Education continues to be the only effective vaccine to combat denial, ignorance and prejudice, which places people at risk of contracting HIV," Said Monsignor Robert Vitillo, the Vatican's special adviser on HIV and AIDS.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Dumuguete City also sponsored an event at Silliman University where students, faculty, pastors and administrators met to discuss HIV and AIDS. They formed a university-wide planning team under the leadership of Victor Aguilan, Divinity School Professor of ethics.

The report stated protestant seminars emphasized: education; testing counseling and treatment; and combating stigma and discrimination.

Rapid Growth of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines

The report notes that UNAIDS says the Philippines is one of only seven nations in the world where HIV is increasing dramatically. From 1984 to May 2012, the Philippines listed 9,696 HIV cases.

"What is shocking," said the Rev. Allan D. Casuco, pastor of Manila's Knox United Methodist Church, "is that 54 percent of these patients were reported in the past two years."

He said the 295 cases registered in June 2012 were 66 percent higher than reported a year earlier.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News