As HIV infections there soar, students at the University of Philippines-Dilliman explain what’s holding back progress.
In a deeply Catholic country like the Philippines, where abortion and divorce are still illegal, talking about sex is uncomfortable—and discussing HIV/AIDS is downright taboo.
But that reticence has borne out in the form of an explosion in new HIV infections in the country. According to UNAIDS, the HIV/AIDS agency of the United Nations, the HIV epidemic is growing faster there than anywhere else in Asia. From 2010 to 2015, it rose by more than 50 percent. (About 39,600 Filipinos are currently HIV positive, according to the agency.) It’s compounded by a lack of HIV education among young Filipinos; according to the country’s health department, only 17 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds in the country understand the basics of the virus and how it’s transmitted.
Efforts to reverse the tide have been met by resistance from religious and government authorities, as with last month’s news that the Department of Education had reversed a plan to distribute condoms to high school juniors and seniors, after outcry from parents, the church, and elected officials.
For young Filipinos, living alongside the specter of HIV is a harrowing experience. At the prestigious University of Philippines-Diliman, we asked students—both straight and LGBTQ, religious and non—to tell us how their generation has been affected by the epidemic and what must be done to stem it.