Church not a hindrance to HIV awareness
Former Miss Universe and UNAIDS goodwill ambassador for the Asia-Pacific Pia Wurtzbach recently underwent a publicized HIV test to raise awareness for the rising rate of infection in our country (“Wurtzbach takes test for HIV,” Front Page, 8/11/17).
This is a response to the recent United Nations report that the Philippines recorded the highest rate of reported HIV infections in Asia. While Wurtzbach is right in saying that HIV testing should be made more available, I strongly disagree with her assessment of the situation and the Agence France-Presse’s labeling of the Catholic Church as a stumbling block in reducing HIV infection. In fact, if you look at Catholic teaching, you will see that the Church has much to offer in the fight against HIV.
The UN reported a 140-percent increase in new HIV cases in the Philippines from 2010-2016. Wurtzbach sees the conservatism of the Catholic Church as a challenge and AFP blows up that viewpoint to excessive proportions. But are condoms truly the answer to our HIV woes? Contraceptive advocates parade condoms as a seemingly infallible shield against HIV. A 1999 study by the Guttmacher Institute admitted that, at the minimum, the condom’s effectiveness in preventing HIV transmission was 60 percent and even with perfect, consistent use (which doesn’t occur often), it only has 96 percent effectiveness. Can people be honestly safe with the fact that there is anywhere between a 4 percent and 40 percent chance of them acquiring HIV even while wearing a condom?
A 1992 study by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration tested 89 new and undamaged condoms with small, 110-nanometer microspheres to simulate the size of the HIV virus. In this test, leakage of the microspheres occurred in 29 condoms, and the experiment did not even include variables such as thrusting or condom stretching and breakage. They concluded by saying that “condoms can significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission, but it does not eliminate the risk.”
Michael Roland, head of the Polymer Properties Section of the US Naval Research Institute, said that even intact condoms have naturally occurring defects (tiny holes penetrating the entire thickness) measuring five to 50 microns in diameter — 50 to 500 times the size of the HIV virus.
Another aspect that is often overlooked in HIV awareness is the clear link between high-risk sexual behaviors and chances of infection. The majority of HIV cases reported are from those men who have sex with men.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that “anal sex is the highest risk sexual behavior for HIV transmission. This can be attributed to the fact that the anal sphincter is a delicate, easily torn tissue that can provide an entry for pathogens.” The CDC even reported that wearing condoms during anal intercourse can only prevent HIV transmission by 63 percent to 72 percent. And before you shout discrimination against me, rate of transmissions through vaginal sex is also increasing.
Many might dismiss my argument and say that, “oh, it is just a religious issue.” But until this paragraph, I have used nothing but scientific studies conducted by topnotch health agencies. So even those who are not religious can get this point, that “safe sex” is a joke. Instead it is our habits, our behaviors which we must change. And that is where I see that Church teaching has it right, because contraceptives are not totally reliable and putting our entire faith in something that does not work dooms us to failure.
I also strongly disagree with the AFP report stating that “HIV testing is considered a taboo.” Nobody ever said that. No government or Church official has released that statement. Clearly they are trying to paint the false picture that HIV testing is somehow shadowy or suppressed in our country. HIV tests are available in almost every healthcare institution. What is needed is just the encouragement and guidance for potential patients to get tested. That is what our government should improve on: accessible HIV testing, affordable pre- and postexposure prophylaxis, and ensuring antiretroviral therapy for those already with HIV.
GERARD BIAGAN, [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.