Our shared goal: Control HIV spread, practice tolerance
The Philippines is undergoing an incredible period of economic growth and increasing prosperity. Amongst all the good news, however, the alarming rise in the number of people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) often goes unnoticed by the general public.
The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) reported an 812-percent growth in new HIV cases since 2008—a substantial increase among at-risk groups in particular locations. International organizations have also sounded the alarm bell. The 2012 UNAIDS Global Report noted that the Philippines was one of only three countries in the Asia-Pacific where HIV incidence and prevalence were increasing. The disease is spreading so fast that the DOH estimates there will be nearly 40,000 people living with HIV in the Philippines by next year.
As we mark World AIDS Day today, Dec. 1, we acknowledge the strong partnerships that have reduced the number of new HIV infections by half throughout the world. To contain HIV in the Philippines, such partnerships are needed here, uniting government action, civil society collaboration, and international support. Globally, the United States government through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved millions of lives by financing antiretroviral treatments, medical care, and HIV testing and counseling. In the Philippines, the United States Agency for International Development is supporting the development of a comprehensive package of services for MSM (males having sex with males) and IDUs (intravenous drug users) to enhance HIV prevention, testing, and service delivery to key populations.
The Philippine government, through the DOH, plays a critical role in combating the spread of HIV. As the DOH proposes revisions to Republic Act No. 8504 (The Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998), international models of intervention that are rights-based, inclusive, and respectful of diverse populations need to be considered. Government programs and policies must make eliminating stigma and discrimination central to ensuring that all people feel safe accessing HIV/AIDS testing and treatment services.
To increase respect and understanding, the US Embassy, along with Miriam College and local HIV/AIDS advocates, organized a World AIDS Day forum to celebrate the lives of Filipinos living with HIV/AIDS. Brave individuals battling the disease, as well as families, friends, and medical professionals who support them, will declare that respect for human rights is vital to fighting the spread of HIV.
World AIDS Day is an opportunity to highlight the role of tolerance and acceptance in slowing the spread of HIV in any society.
Today, the United States affirms that all persons should be free to access and receive essential health services from providers who treat them with dignity and respect. I call on all partners in our shared goal of controlling HIV in the Philippines to practice tolerance.
Programs and policies that treat people with dignity and respect will have the greatest impact along with accessible services and adequate resources. The goal of an AIDS-free Philippines will be fulfilled when every Filipino feels that he or she will be fairly treated when seeking access to testing and medical services. Join me in reaching out to everyone in need so that together, we may achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation in the Philippines.
Philip Goldberg is the United States’ ambassador to the Philippines. Here is the link to the embassy video which will be premiered today at the forum: http://youtu.be/RmwQr_3qFgk
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