MANILA, PhilippinesDespite her recent disagreement with Roman Catholic clergymen on the distribution of condoms to fight HIV/AIDS, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral recognizes the important role of faith-based groups in fighting the disease.
At a forum on the human immunodeficiency virus at the Department of Social Work and Development in Quezon City, Cabral said religious groups can influence behavior modification in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
These groups play a very important role. They can influence change in behavior in society. And behavior change is the way to prevention of AIDS, Cabral told reporters.
Those who agree with us on abstinence, we look to them to strengthen the moral fiber of our society, she added.
Nevertheless, Cabral said, health authorities will continue distributing condoms through barangay health centers.
There is no stopping the distribution of condoms. This is not a campaign against pregnancy, Cabral stressed. She added that the condoms were also being given to men who have sexual relations with other men, those who might be using drugs and spouses of persons living with the HIV virus.
The government cannot do this task of reducing and preventing infections alone. I am glad that faith-based organizations have opened their doors to this calling of caring and providing support to those infected and affected, she said.
On the other hand, a representative of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines at the forum, Josephine Ignacio of the National Secretariat for Social Action, said the fight against AIDS can focus on other factors, such as poverty.
There are many concerns that can be talked about. We dont want to spend time talking about condoms. That is a small iota of the problem, Ignacio said.
She pointed out that there are also social factors in the spread of HIV/AIDS that need to be addressed, such as poverty, unemployment, prostitution and access to treatment.
The government has a role in public health. The Church wants to remind it that there are other issues, strategies and concerns related to the issue. We want to remind government not to encourage promiscuity. The challenge of the Church is for all of us to lead a well-ordered sex life, Ignacio said.
In a prepared statement, Ignacio urged the public to see beyond the Condom debate in relation to the role of the Catholic Church in combating HIV/AIDS.
To label the Church as hostile to the efforts in combating the virus is doing a great disservice to hundreds of thousands of religious nuns, priests, brothers and other members of the Church who are the silent workforce behind the exceptional response to the pandemic. With the work we have at hand, we do not have the luxury of time to indulge in polemical discussions on Condom, she said.
Ignacio added that the Church continues to promote and encourage sexual relationships that are based on mutual respect for God-given dignity and mutual responsibility within the context of a permanent and faithful marital relationship.
Infection rates in the country have been rising steadily, form one every three days in 2000 to two per day in 2009.