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Commission hails govt move to distribute free condoms

March 22, 2010 7:15pm

The Philippine Commission on Women on Monday recognized the Health Department's efforts to curb the rising number of cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection in the country.

The announcement was made after the Catholic Church aired its disapproval over Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral’s move to distribute free condoms last Valentine’s Day.

The Department of Health’s (DOH) “audacious act of distribution of condoms as a proactive way of dealing with this crisis and thus must be fully supported," the commission said in a statement. “We congratulate DOH for its initiative to confront the frightening reality of HIV/AIDS epidemic."

“The PCW sees the reinvigorated campaign of the DOH on condom use to stop HIV and AIDS epidemic as a responsible act," it added.

Citing data from the department’s National Epidemiology Center, the commission expressed alarm over an almost 280 percent increase in HIV cases within eight years.

In 2001, only 174 HIV cases were recorded.

By 2009, the number ballooned to 835.

By 2012, about 32,000 Filipinos could be affected if the imminent epidemic, as Cabral claimed in earlier reports, is not addressed.

In its statement, the commission then said that a “massive information drive" should reinforce Health Department’s campaign against the killer virus.

Last month, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines demanded Cabral’s resignation over the condom distribution, which prelates claim “promote promiscuity."

But the Health chief stood her ground and refused to leave her post.

Good quality condoms effective protection vs HIV

In a related development, the Manila office of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that good-quality condoms are an extremely effective protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

“The correct and consistent use of good-quality condoms confers a level of protection as high as 85 to 90 percent against HIV transmission," said Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, WHO Representative to the Philippines. “Male and female condoms, when properly kept, stored, handled and used, are the only scientifically proven barrier products currently available against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections."

The WHO’s statement comes at a time of growing concern about HIV in the Philippines.

The number of newly reported HIV infections increased from one infection every three days in 2000, to one infection per day in 2007, and two infections per day in 2009.

Sexual intercourse was the most common mode of transmission, accounting for 90 percent.

Globally, the number of new HIV infections has decreased by 17 percent between 2000 and 2009.

Condoms have played an essential role in HIV prevention efforts in many countries, WHO said.

They helped to reduce HIV infection rates where AIDS has already taken hold, curtailing the broader spread of HIV in settings where the epidemic is both generalized and concentrated. Condoms have also encouraged safer sexual behavior more generally.

“Countries that have implemented robust 100 percent condom-use programs have been able to contain their fast growing HIV epidemics first, and reverse the trend within a relatively short period of time", said Dr. Soe. “Experiences in Thailand and Cambodia are well documented and provide solid evidence that condom use protects against the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections".

Dr. Soe also emphasized that condom use is just one of the critical elements to reduce the risk of sexual transmission of HIV.

"We promote other means of prevention that include abstaining from sex, delaying sexual initiation, knowing your HIV status, and remaining faithful in a relationship with an uninfected partner," he said.

Dr Massimo Ghidinelli, WHO’s Regional Adviser for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the Western Pacific Region, said condoms are not porous and cannot be penetrated by the HIV.

"The molecular structure of a quality-assured latex condom does not permit microorganisms, including viruses and motile cells such as sperm, to pass through, giving a barrier efficiency close to 100 percent in laboratory tests."

However, Dr. Ghidinelli said that in real-life situations, the protection level can fall a little due to such factors as inappropriate storage and handling, including exposure to heat, inconsistent use and expiry of the product's life span. - GMANews.TV
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