There couldn’t have been a worse time for the Philippine government to axe public funding for contraceptives from the national budget. Despite the new Reproductive Health Law requiring that government health centres provide free condoms and birth control pills, the Philippines’ legislature cut funding for this provision.
The original budget submitted to Congress for approval reportedly earmarked for Php 1 billion (more than USD 20 million) to fund procurement and distribution of condoms and other contraceptives to Filipinos. According to Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin, “the budget cut would have a major impact on poor and young mothers highly dependent on the government’s free provision of artificial contraceptives”;
Garin stressed the need to provide young and poor couples with family planning services to allow them to make better choices and to give their children a better future. She took note of the Philippines’ very young population, wherein women as young as 14 years old are getting pregnant.Many of these women are pushed to commit abortion or abandon their children because of poverty while others strive to keep their children alive but are not able to give them education, she added.
The national economy has for so long creaked under the pressure of the Philippines’ enormous population. Clerics of the country’s predominant religion, Roman Catholicism, have aggravated this problem by strongly opposing many initiatives to implement a viable population control program on a national scale. Seeking employment overseas had become a popular way Filipinos deal with a lack of domestic employment opportunity. Remittances from Filipinos working abroad as overseas foreign workers (OFWs) now account for about 10% of the value of the Philippine economy. But even this entrenched tradition is now at risk thanks to mounting economic difficulties being experienced by Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia that host a huge proportion of Filipino OFWs.
But an even more menacing effect of a deficit in reproductive health support services and facilities is the growing threat of an HIV epidemic. The Atlantic reports that despite an overall decline in new infections worldwide, the Philippines’ reported incidences of HIV infections have been growing by 10 percent each year. Alarms have now been raised after a spike in 2009 when infection rates “jumped 58 percent from the previous year”. More disturbingly…
There was a similarly dramatic increase the next year, and again the year after that. In October 2015, the DOH’s HIV/AIDS registry counted just over 29,000 cases in the country since 1984—with more than 24,000 of them reported after 2010.
…and that “most of the country’s new infections come from sexual contact”.
The Atlantic report raised awareness primarily around the plight of Cebu City which recorded one of the highest incidences of HIV infection in the country. But unlike in other parts of the Philippines, sharing of needles amongst intravenous drug users accounted for the bigger proportion of infections in recent years there.
Nonetheless, considering that sexual contact remains the primary means of HIV transmission in the Philippines, the priorities of the cash-strapped Philippine government are clear. According to the DOH, “the number of HIV infections in the Philippines could reach 133,000 by 2022,” if its spread is not stemmed any time soon.
[Photo courtesy UCAnews.com.]