The National Council of Churches in the Philippines expresses alarm that the country has now become the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific, and has become one of eight countries that account for more than 85 percent of new HIV infections in the region.
We lament that one of the significant challenges remains the stigma and discrimination in all sectors of society – government, academe, media, businesses and church. The irrational fears and negative attitudes not only erode the sense of self-worth of people living with HIV (PLHIV), but inhibit both the uptake of services as well as the adequate provision of both psycho-social, spiritual and medical services to support universal access to stigma and discrimination free prevention, treatment care and support.
Every person, regardless of social class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, drug use or sex work is deeply loved by God. When God’s people come into houses of worship and prayer and do not leave knowing this reality, then we, the faith community have failed both them and the God we serve. And the erosion of self-worth that this represents places people in vulnerability.
Jesus gave Himself equally to Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. In St John’s Gospel are proclaimed the immortal words, “God so loved the world….” without any further qualification. Deliberately included in St Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus are people who sell sex, migrants, refugees, indigent, labourers, kings and even a teenager who got pregnant outside of marriage.
We acknowledge that the other great challenge in ending AIDS as a public health threat in the country is the dismal public healthcare that is worsened by the current government policy of privatization and corporatization of public hospitals and health facilities. Public healthcare including HIV prevention and management, as well as treatment of opportunistic infections of AIDS patients have become commodities with a price tag for every service.
We thus call on the government to assume full responsibility in the provision of free health services to all people, and provide essential medicines for free. The exclusive utilization of public funds for public health facilities will guarantee that healthcare is provided for free and will never be profit-driven or used for income generation at the expense of all patients, including PLHIV.
As our continuing response, our churches persist in changing and moulding the psycho-social environment and attitudes in relation to HIV and its related vulnerabilities. As such we, the member churches of NCCP commit ourselves to our own 90-90-90 targets by 2020:
90% of people living with HIV in our congregations will know their HIV status.
90% of those who know their HIV status will be or will have received psycho-social and spiritual counselling and care which is appropriate and stigma free from their respective churches.
90% of those who have received HIV related counselling and care in their churches will say that they have experienced their faith community to be stigma and discrimination free both in terms of HIV and its associated vulnerabilities.
We worship and follow the God who reaches out to us in our frailty and vulnerability. We praise Our Lord Jesus Christ who pour out his own life blood that none might be excluded. We are inspired by the uncomfortable life changing spirit who consistently calls us out of comfortability into life enhancing life changing action. We commit to do more, speak more, challenge more and preach more to ensure that all are informed of their own vulnerabilities to HIV, and that we are part of the solution and not the problem, God being our helper.
Rev. Rex Reyes, Jr.