Amid the recent observance of World AIDS Day on December 1, Senator Win Gatchalian pressed the need to strengthen comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), especially as the Filipino youth’s awareness of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) hit its lowest level since 1994.
From 95% in 1994, the percentage of young Filipinos aged 15-24 who have heard of HIV and AIDS dropped by 19 percentage points to 76% based on the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFSS) of the University of the Philippines Population Institute’s (UPPI).
The study also revealed the persistence of myths and misconceptions on HIV and AIDS among the Filipino youth. For instance, more than half or 52% of Filipino youth incorrectly believed that a person could get HIV by sharing food with someone who is infected. About two in five or 40% did not believe that a healthy-looking person can have HIV.
For Gatchalian, these results show the urgency of strengthening sexuality education in the country, especially because the Philippines is the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia Pacific region. Between 2010 and 2020, HIV incidence in the country increased by 237%, according to the Department of Health (DOH). AIDS-related deaths, on the other hand, increased by 315% from 200 in 2010 to 820 in 2020.
Earlier this year, Gatchalian filed Proposed Senate Resolution No. 13, which seeks a Senate inquiry on the rise of HIV infections and teenage pregnancies. The inquiry will review the current policy on (CSE) to assess the comprehensiveness of its scope and the effectiveness of its implementation.
In 2020, there were 115,100 people living with HIV in the country, while 90% of new infections were recorded among young males who have sex with males, said the DOH. The agency also warned that should the trend persist the number of HIV cases nationwide could reach 330,000.
“Kung hindi natin mapapaigting ang kaalaman ng ating mga kabataan sa HIV at AIDS, hindi natin mapipigilan ang pagtaas ng mga bagong kaso sa ating bansa. Kaya naman lalo nating kailangang patatagin ang sexuality education upang matulungan ang ating mga kabataan na magkaroon ng sapat na kaalaman at proteksyon,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education.