At Large

HIV/AIDS and delusions of morality

/ 12:28 AM December 02, 2016

I can still remember the days when the media, including the entertainment media, were all over the place talking about HIV/AIDS. Movies were being made about the pandemic, based on the lives of people (remember Dolzura Cortez?) who died of the disease.

Much of the media interest was stoked by Health Secretary Juan Flavier in the 1990s, when much of the world’s attention was called to this new menace. It was Flavier, who had by then created a media-friendly persona and thus presided over a powerful campaign to get the Filipino public not only aware of but also to act on programs to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS.


I remember him opening the doors of the San Lazaro infectious-disease wards to people living with HIV/AIDS, at a time when hospitals and health workers, who should have known better, were deathly afraid of getting infected by the virus. In one instance, a former sex worker sought testing at a nearby government hospital. When the results of the test came out (she tested positive) the nurse dealing with her gingerly held the piece of paper containing the results by one corner, and even refused to look her in the eye. As if HIV/AIDS could be transmitted by eye contact!

A number of programs were launched to address the needs of the more vulnerable sectors. Overseas workers were required to attend predeployment seminars that included a module on protection from HIV/AIDS. Even proprietors of brothels and clubs got into the picture, establishing “100 percent” condom-use policies for their workers and customers. And where before HIV/AIDS used to be treated with humor and scorn for its victims, the


media soon took the issue seriously enough to merit more respectful coverage.

No wonder everyone soon fell into complacency. At this time, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was described as “low and slow,” because compared to our neighbors, especially Thailand, the number of new HIV cases here was still low, and tracking mechanisms showed a rather sluggish spread.

But why is it that things have since drastically changed? As yesterday’s Inquirer editorial pointed out, the Philippines “is now one of seven countries burdened with an alarming increase in the rate of HIV/AIDS infections.” From “low and slow,” health authorities now say the HIV/AIDS epidemic has transformed into a “fast and furious” phenomenon.

To borrow a popular millennial term, “Anyare?” What happened?

Well, for starters the propaganda efforts, to my mind, may have been a victim of their own success. With everyone talking about HIV/AIDS and high public awareness of measures to combat it, people began to think the problem had been licked. Efforts to fight the disease slackened off.

Pair this with a consequent drying up of funds for HIV/AIDS programs, even from foreign and international bodies, and it was inevitable that efforts would weaken, if not disappear completely.

Also not helping any was a change in attitude among health officials. A health secretary after Flavier once declared in a public forum that with so many basic diseases to confront—TB, malnutrition, diarrhea, even cardiac disease—the money being spent on HIV/AIDS was a case of misplaced priorities.


Well, prioritize this. With 26 new cases reported daily, surely the Department of Health cannot afford to turn away from the need to act, and act now, act fast, act urgently, to address the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Who can forget the statement of then President (now congresswoman) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, upon her arrival from a regional conference on health concerns, that she told the gathered leaders that the reason for the “low and slow” spread of HIV/AIDS here was that Filipinos practiced “high morality”?

So people living with HIV/AIDS are morally weak? And countries with high rates of HIV/AIDS are morally reprehensible?

See what happened to us. Our people continued to have sex, and unprotected sex at that, and worse, a slew of prohibitions on reproductive health services and education for young people have resulted in HIV/AIDS hitting younger and younger Filipinos. So much for our “high morality.”

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TAGS: AIDS, HIV, Juan Flavier, reproductive health
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