Wed, May 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Ban on Philippine condom funds blasted


A ban on using national funds to distribute condoms could result in an explosion of HIV/AIDS cases in this predominantly Roman-Catholic nation, an international human rights watchdog warned yesterday.

The Philippines has one of Asia's lowest AIDS infection rates, with about 10,000 cases in a country of 84 million.

But Human Rights Watch said the government's refusal to pay for condom distribution means large numbers of Filipinos will be denied access to one of the best means of prevention for those who are sexually active, placing many at risk of infection with the virus.

"The Philippines is courting an AIDS epidemic with its anti-condom approach," said researcher Jona-than Cohen. "The casualties will be millions of people who cannot protect themselves from HIV infection."

The report, Unprotected: Sex, Condoms, and the Human Right to Health in the Philippines, noted that some local officials, like the Manila mayor, prohibit distribution of condoms in government health facilities. Educators are often not allowed to discuss condoms, it added.

Last year, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines blocked legislation authorizing the use of national funds for condoms and other contraceptives.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration awarded a 50 million peso (US$896,000) contract to an organization, Couples for Christ, to provide "natural family planning" seminars that discourage condom use, the report said.

The report criticized the Philippines for failing to provide complete HIV/AIDS information to sex workers and other groups at high risk of infection. Police use possession of condoms as evidence to prosecute prostitutes.

Archbishop Fernando Capalla, president of the CBCP, refused to comment on the report until he had seen it. But he said the church's preference for married couples' use of natural birth control methods is known.

He said the church believes sex workers should be convinced to seek another livelihood, and that promoting condom use among them would not be right.

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