There is again a call for a national condom distribution programme to curb the number of HIV cases in the country. The May 2017 statistics, where 1,098 cases were reported - the highest since tracking began in 1984 - has health officials and infectious disease experts extremely concerned.

National Youth Commission (NYC) Chairman Cariza Seguerra said Filipinos must face the reality of rising HIV/AIDS infections, and do what is necessary to address this growing health crisis.

“We can't always invoke cultural sensitivity here because, otherwise, we will be helpless. If we will be proactive, we will have a chance to defeat this," Chairman Seguerra was quoted as saying.

Other than the number of HIV/AIDS cases, the HIV and AIDS Registry of the Philippines (HARP) under the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Bureau also included the breakdown of demographics in its report.

What has the NYC alarmed is the number of youth (15 - 24 age group) infected with HIV/AIDS - 33 percent.

Sexual transmission remains the top mode of transmission with 1,068 of the cases, and MSMs (men who have sex with men) recorded 918 cases, while 27 have been infected through drug use via injections.

"We need the help of everybody here - the government, the private sector, in fixing this. This already happened in Thailand, and they resorted to condom distribution. From college down to pre-schools, students were taught about reproductive health so that they won't be awkward when condoms are raised in conversations," he said, according to the Manila Times.

Recently, Seguerra advocated for lowering the age to 15 of Filipinos who can avail of HIV test kits without seeking the permission of their parents.

Presently, those aged under 18 need parental consent to get the test, and this is proving to be a deterrent for the youth to undergo testing, out of embarrassment or fear of their parents knowing.

However, lowering the age without consent will need legislation.

In a related development, Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag underscored that condom distribution as a means of protection against HIV/AIDS will not be as effective unless people use it correctly.

He said, “You will be surprised to know that many people do not know how to use condoms properly.”

Incorrect usage means the latex material could be punctured or tear enabling fluids to seep through and still result in infection.

It is not just a matter of wearing the condom but handling it properly for maximum efficacy, Dr Tayag explained. Further, it only becomes effective if used consistently.

Meanwhile, a nationwide distribution of condoms , should it push through, is likewise expected to help stem the rising problem of teenage pregnancy.

The Commission on Population (POPCOM) recently noted that about 5 girls between the ages of 10 - 14 became pregnant or give birth daily.

"The Philippines already tops Southeast Asia in teenaged pregnancies, and that is not a good place to be in," said Seguerra. MIMS

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