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REPORT: The Philippines’ Ticking AIDS Time Bomb

A new report coming out of the Philippines indicates HIV rates are on the rise in the Southeast Asian country. While the fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases (almost all among gay men) is a relatively small number in a country of almost 100 million, that rate has tripled in the past few years: There are now ten new infections each day. The deeply Catholic island is also one of only seven nations in the world that has seen a rise of more than 25% in HIV infections since 2001. (See the entire list here.)

“This is a worrying explosion of HIV cases marked by a shift in the way the virus is transmitted,” said Philip Castro, an HIV/AIDS program officer at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). “What’s more alarming is that more than 60% of those engaging in [homosexual] sex had reported having unsafe sex in their last contact.”

The church’s ban on condoms is a contributing factor, as are the absence of public-awareness campaigns and cultural taboos against homosexuality, AIDS and even sex.

“I know a lot of people living with HIV that are not allowed to go to school, to attend church or gain access to certain health services,” said AIDS activist Humphrey Gorriceta, who has seen two friends commit suicide after being diagnosed. “HIV is like the modern leprosy, except it is hidden.”

But by withholding life-saving educational resources that have proven so successful in other countries, the government—and the church—could face an exponentially worse problem in a nation where the average person makes about $350 per month.

The societal cost of a full-blown epidemic, meanwhile, could be in the millions.