Tag Archive | "AIDS"

Vatican celebrates 30th AIDS anniversary with more bigotry

Did the Pope’s 2010 statement about condom use in exceptional cases show that he’s changed his mind about them? Is the CBCP defying the Vatican by denouncing the Reproductive Health Bill in spite of the Pope’s pronouncement? Between the CBCP and the Vatican, which old boys club is more bigoted? These questions are answered once and for all by the Vatican’s recent efforts at the 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS.

But first, some background.

In June 1981, the AIDS epidemic was formally recognized in the US. Since then, medical professionals from all over the world have failed in their search for a cure. Prevention, they discovered, is our best bet.

And out of all prevention technologies invented so far, none have proven more effective than the condom. Medical authorities, including the UNAIDS, UNFPA, and WHO, agree: “the male latex condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”

But to the Pope, effectiveness alone is not enough. To him, contraception is always evil and should always be banned — even if it saves lives. And of the innumerable lives lost to AIDS, most have been those of Africans. Though they’re only 14.7% of the world’s population, Africa is inhabited by more than 88% of people living with HIV. In 2007, Africa had 92% of all AIDS deaths.

Which makes the Pope’s statements in a 2009 visit to Africa all the more disgusting. He said that “HIV/Aids is a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.”

To the Pope’s credit, he’s only being consistent. From the start, the Vatican has been lobbying to ban reproductive health programs all over the world, with no sign that they’ll ever change their position.

Then in late 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave an interview to a German journalist for a book, Light of the World, an appropriate title because it gave a glimmer of hope. Catholics all over the world celebrated the Pope’s statements. “Finally!” they thought, “the Pope has changed his mind about contraception!” UNAIDS even made a press statement welcoming the Pope’s support for HIV prevention.

But most hopes were dashed when the Vatican clarified the Pope’s views, stating that his views on contraception have not shifted. I say “most” because many Catholics still cling to the possibility that the Pope’s statements mean more than they do, that there’s still a chance for change. Even now, some pro-RH Catholics argue that the CBCP is defying the Pope when it continues to denounce contraception. It’s happened more than once that I had to point someone toward the Vatican’s clarification.

If the Vatican’s words aren’t enough proof, their recent actions should be. Yesterday, 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, the 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS started, serving as another opportunity for the world to “come together to review progress and chart the future course of the global AIDS response.” For the Vatican, it’s another opportunity to take a stand against reproductive health, medical progress, and women’s rights.

When it comes to choosing solutions, the standard for most members is effectiveness in the real world; for the Vatican, it’s adherence to instructions from Heaven. Here are just some of the suggestions made by the Pope’s “all-male team”:

  • stripping all references to sexual and reproductive health and rights from the meeting’s declaration
  • gutting all mentions of education and prevention other than marriage and fidelity
  • insisting that “families” be replaced with “the family”, as though that monolith even exists or that it provides some kind of magic shield against HIV
  • deleting all mention of “female-controlled prevention methods
  • deleting the following sentence: “… by ensuring that women and girls can exercise their right to have control over, and decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality in order to increase their ability to protect themselves from HIV infection, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

We’ll find out in a few days whether these suggestions are integrated into the meeting’s declaration. But I believe it’s not too early to come to the following conclusion:

The Pope, with his bigoted bishops representing the Vatican, are an enemy of progress, not only in dealing with HIV and AIDS, but in promoting reproductive health, informed choice, and women’s rights.

I hope the Vatican’s actions help Filipino Catholics realize that the CBCP is not alone in their bigotry. The CBCP has no mind (of its own). All of their statements and actions are dictated by the Vatican. “You will know them by their fruit.

And I hope the UN ignores the Vatican’s representatives and realizes that inviting them is ultimately counterproductive. On second thought, maybe the Vatican’s objections can serve as useful indications: If the Pope protests, you’re probably onto something good.

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Reproductive Health Bill Revisited

If I remember it right, it’s been already a decade of almost nonstop controversy regarding the reproductive health and contraceptives issue. The earliest that I could remember was how Mayor Lito Atienza came under fire for banning Manila public clinics from distributing free contraceptives and teaching any other methods of contraception other than natural family planning, which is the only “contraception” method espoused by his religion. Human Rights Watch HIV program research, Jonathan Cohen, even went far in saying that “the Philippines is courting an AIDS epidemic with its anti-condom approach…the casualties will be millions of people who cannot protect themselves from HIV infection“. Lito Atienza and his wife may have had pro-life projects that truly helped impoverished women, especially those who suffered from post-abortion trauma, but still, their anti-contraceptiion stance is immovable.

And such stance has pervaded, unfortunately, some of the country’s lawmakers. For this reason, the fate of the Reproductive Health Bill, hangs in a balance.

And unfortunately, the anti-RH force is moving heaven and earth just so that this bill will not be passed.

But what is it in the Reproductive Health Bill that has enraged the Catholic clergy?

I have actually written about this particular subject several years ago (see “What the RCC hates in the RH act“). But, since this bill has gone some revisions, we shall try to review it again, during the course of which I’ll try to dismantle the misinformation being propagated by the so-called “pro-lifers” (who have more than successfully hijacked the term just so to gain unfair advantage over their opponents).

The elements of reproductive health care that are being espoused by the bill are as follows:

    family planning information and services;
    maternal, infant and child health and nutrition, including breastfeeding;
    proscription of abortion and management of abortion complications;
    adolescent and youth reproductive health;
    prevention and management of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmittable infections elimination of violence against women;
    education and counseling on sexuality and reproductive health;
    treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions and disorders;
    male responsibility and participation in reproductive health;
    prevention and treatment of infertility and sexual dysfunction;
    reproductive health education for the adolescents
    mental health aspect of reproductive health care.

But for this post, I shall be limiting myself in those concepts that has lighted the fire under our beloved clergy’s butts.

1) Family planning information and services

Beloved Catholic clergy did not want taxpayers’ money to fund public health clinics giving out pamphlets and lectures regarding modern artificial contraceptives. Neither does it want it to be giving away free contraceptives. The clergy wanted ONLY natural methods of family planning to be endorsed and taught by these clinics. The clergy has successfully convinced some of its members to disagree with the bill by cleverly insinuating that their taxes go to activities deemed immoral by their church (not considering that NOT everybody in this country belong to their church). And so the statements, “I will not allow the government to use my taxes to pay for your condom” and “let them buy their own condoms”. Well, the idea is to help out the impoverished who cannot afford to buy contraceptives. For those who do not know, contraceptives are considered essential medicines (see section 18, WHO list of essential medicines March 2010 update). The WHO list of essential medicines is a list of minimum medicines needs for a basic health care system. If the clergy wanted to prevent contraceptives from being able in a basic health care unit, then they are, basically, preventing the government from addressing basic health care needs.

The clergy is also frowning upon the use of IUDs and tubal ligation as contraceptive measures. What most of them are blind to is the provision in the bill that these procedures will not be FORCED upon women, but rather, it would be made available to those who may wish to have these procedures.

    SEC. 7. Access to Family Planning
    All accredited health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods, except in specialty hospitals which may render such services on an optional basis. For poor patients, such services shall be fully covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and/or government financial assistance on a no balance billing.
    After the use of any PhilHealth benefit involving childbirth and all other pregnancy-related services, if the beneficiary wishes to space or prevent her next pregnancy, PhilHealth shall pay for the full cost of family planning. 

    SEC. 11. Procurement and Distribution of Family Planning Supplies
    The DOH shall spearhead the efficient procurement, distribution to LGUs and usage-monitoring of family planning supplies for the whole country. The DOH shall coordinate with all appropriate LGUs to plan and implement this procurement and distribution program. The supply and budget allotment shall be based on, among others, the current levels and projections of the following:
    (a) number of women of reproductive age and couples who want to space or limit their children;
    (b) contraceptive prevalence rate, by type of method used; and
    (c) cost of family planning supplies.

    SEC. 24. Right to Reproductive Health Care Information
    The government shall guarantee the right of any person to provide or receive non-fraudulent information about the availability of reproductive health care services, including family planning, and prenatal care.
    The DOH and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) shall initiate and sustain a heightened nationwide multi-media campaign to raise the level of public awareness of the protection and promotion of reproductive health and rights including family planning and population and development.

2) Proscription of abortion and management of abortion complications

As early as now, I’m going to say there is nothing (I repeat, NOTHING) in the reproductive health bill that is espousing abortion (abortion being “expulsion from the uterus of the products of conception before the fetus is viable”, according to an online medical dictionary). The bill, rather, wants to strengthen postabortion care. Now, some will say this is indirectly encouraging women to have abortion. But I’m going to stop you right there. Every woman who has had an abortion, whether spontaneous or induced, whether the abortion hurts you as a believer or not, has a right to obtain good postabortion care.

I remember how it was in the different hospitals I have rotated before…girl coming to the hospital complaining of vaginal bleeding and by history, it was evident that she had induced abortion. Health care providers, then, would be rough and tough on her, just so she’d remember the pain and thus, “remember the lesson”. And some even threatened to be denied anesthesia during curettage, just so they’d break down and cry, the health care provider thinking she’d someday learn to keep herself from getting pregnant again, having more than 5 children or so at the tender age of 20. I remember crying at the time I assisted in the vaginal delivery of a 12-year old girl, a pregnancy that was a product of rape of her father. I remember her as a pained girl, who was so restless on the delivery table, not knowing what to do and too much in pain even to think, as the ob-gyne resident shouted down on her to keep her legs apart. “Ayoko na po! Ayoko na po!” were the words she had ceaselessly shouted until she was able to deliver her baby. I imagined it must be the same set of words that she have shouted back to her father while she was being raped.

No, I’m not saying that this girl should have outright abortion because of rape. But if reproductive health assistance are in place, she could have had proper prenatal care and a planned cesarean section would have been done, as her body frame is so small, she might be better off with a C-section rather than risking a vaginal delivery. However, she did not have prenatal care and the only consultation with a health professional that she had was when she was already in active labor. Or she could have had emergency contraception hours after the attack on her.

For you Anti-RH doctors out there, I don’t understand why you still can’t agree to pass the RH bill, with all that you’ve seen since medical school and clerkship. I bet almost everyone of you has rotated in government hospitals. You have seen the numerous poor pregnant women who have come in and out of these hospitals. You have heard their stories, of how they wanted only few children, but were stuck with 10 or more because they cannot refuse a husband asking for sex. You must have heard how most of these women would say they cannot complete their prenatal care because they’d rather spend on food and electricity than on transportation to hospital and medicines. You have seen how some of the health providers in these government hospitals have been rough and tough on these women, just so that they remember the pain and hardship enough to make them think twice before going into another pregnancy. You have seen the scope of how access to reproductive health medicines and procedures are sorely lacking in this country. How can you not agree with the passage of the bill? Because of your alma mater? Because of your religious convictions? This is not an issue of religion; this is a secular issue. Let these women have their choice!

3) Reproductive health education for the adolescents
The clergy keeps on asking, “do you want your children as young as 5 years old to learn about sex?” My answer to this is YES. Whether parents would be honest to themselves or not, one cannot deny the curiosity of a growing child. Yes, even at the young age of 5, kids do already have some questions related to gender and sex. As the kids grow older, the questions grow more mature and complicated. And it is the responsibility of parents to address these questions. But not every parent can be comfortable discussing sex with their children. Come on, be honest with yourselves. Have you ever discussed sex at any length with your mother/father? The all-too-common scenario at home is this: parent and youngster watching a movie on TV, then a kissing scene comes up. Father/mother brings up one hand to cover youngster’s eyes until the scene ended. “Don’t look, you’re too young for this!” And the youngster is either left bewildered at why he shouldn’t see those scenes or he already knows what those scenes are because he already saw movie at a friend’s house. Most Filipino parents would be just content at “screening out” the topic of sex without ever venturing into trying to give the appropriate knowledge to their kids. And unfortunately, these kids would learn about sex and reproduction through friends only. Talk about the blind leading the blind. And it is at this point that the whole barrage of misinformation and myths start and sometimes will culminate into teen pregnancy or other complications regarding relationship with another person.

And here comes the clergy telling us that only the parents should teach their kids about sex.

In the amended reproductive health bill:

    SEC. 16. Mandatory Age-Appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education
    Age-appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education shall be taught by adequately trained teachers in formal and non-formal educational system starting from Grade Five up to Fourth Year High School using life skills and other approaches… 

    …Parents shall exercise the option of not allowing their minor children to attend classes pertaining to Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education.

I’m not sure where the clergy got the idea that the kids will be forced to attend sex education classes. It is rather clear that the parents have the option to let their children attend these classes. However, in my opinion, children as young as those in the 5th grade should have these classes already. Fifth graders are usually in the age of 11-12 years old and this age is the start of puberty. With many changes in their bodies, these children should be enlightened and armed with knowledge they need to understand these changes.

There is still plenty left to be discussed regarding the reproductive health bill, now that the clergy and their loyal followers are so hell-bent on obstructing the passage of this bill into law. This has also brought out the worst in some people, even if they think they mean well and are only fighting for what they think is right. However, what we must remember that reproductive health bill shouldn’t even be an issue anymore. Every country needs a good reproductive health care available to its citizens. We have our own personal beliefs regarding it, whether it be religious or not. But reproductive health is a secular issue and citizens must decide on this with the objective that the laws to be passed should be beneficial and appropriate to EVERYONE in the country.

Please see these related articles:

Complete Reproductive Health Bill Text http://rhbill.org/about/rh-bill-text/
Authors’ Amendments to HB 4244 http://rhbill.org/about/amendments-hb4244/

My older posts regarding the issue:
What the RCC hates in the Rh act http://prudencemd.com/?p=488
Family planning will be taught in classes in qc http://prudencemd.com/?p=428
Courting health disaster with Philippines’ anti-condom policies http://prudencemd.com/?p=396
The blog rounds: The State of Reproductive health in the Philippines http://prudencemd.com/?p=492

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The Moral High Ground

Conservative Catholics such as those that comprise the CBCP present liberal positions on matters such as sexuality as part of a continuing trend of social and moral decay. The problem with the social conservatives’ view on the current reproductive health issue is that this trend of “moral decay” that they are seeing is a lot more nefarious than they think. What they are actually seeing is growing skepticism and distrust of the last stronghold of religious authority—morality.

It used to be that the Church had a say in other spheres of thought such as cosmology and biology. With the embarrassment that is the Galileo affair (and the subsequent 1991 apology to the centuries dead astronomer), we can be thankful that no one seriously asks theologians for their say about string theory or the nature of the hydrogen bond (strangely, they are still asked about their views on developmental biology). Now, as our sciences have completely repudiated intelligent design and vitalist doctrines, the Church has lost all power of authority over descriptions of the universe and the mechanisms by which it functions, which is why they are fighting tooth and nail over the use of “morals” in discourse. But no matter how hard the Church tries to paddle us back to the more familiar shores of the 12th century, the human race will journey on and move forward, as it always has. Our children will see the denial of equal rights to homosexuals as abhorrent as we now see slavery. The hysterics Eric Manalang and his cohorts use in harping against contraceptives are already as bizarre and as ridiculous as phrenology. It is only inevitable that the more general religious obsession over what naked people do with their bodies will become as quaint and as obtuse as the practice of blowing smoke up someone’s butt to revive them after drowning. It’s just a matter of time. But with lives in the balance, we cannot wait any longer.

The Church holds values that are explicitly divorced from facts found in the real world. They not only hold such views, they are proud of them. Blessed John Henry Newman encapsulates Catholic morality as this, “She [the Church] regards this world, and all that is in it, as a mere shadow, as dust and ashes, compared with the value of one single soul. She holds that, unless she can, in her own way, do good to souls, it is no use her doing anything; she holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest [sic] agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful [sic] untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse.” While this distillation may set Catholic hearts ablaze with zeal, I find in this passage everything that is worthy of scorn and disdain in the Catholic Church. How can we build a lasting society where people can peacefully collaborate when this level of contempt for human solidarity and improvement of lives exists? It is from this doctrine-mandated disregard for the suffering of mankind that the vitriol of demagogues such as Manalang springs. This is the justification for the abject lies the Church uses to discredit the use of condoms to prevent AIDS despite its ravages—lies that the Vatican now must turn its back on as it accepts the impact of the recent words of its dear leader.

What conservative Catholics continue to call as “immoral” is the simple admission that human suffering is wrong and that we should do everything in our power to prevent it. It is far better for the Church that starving children are forced to peddle wares on the streets than to concede that planning pregnancies by more certain means can be used to prevent the anguish of more innocent children born into misfortune. The authority of God’s One True Church over sins is enough and any mere human attempt at alleviating affliction or delivering justice is heresy. This belief is why the Church squirrels away its rapist employees from real courts. This is irresponsible absurdity at full gallop. Despite its persistent assumption of it, the Church does not stand on the moral high ground. It is wallowing in its own valley of self-righteousness and blindness to human distress. How have we been swindled into thinking that the Church has anything useful or true to say about morals?

On the matter of the respect so fervently demanded by our friends across the aisle, it may perhaps be a shock to them that respect is earned. Respect, as with the moral high ground, is merited through the soundness of one’s positions despite dogged criticism. It is obtained not by steadfast dogmatism, but by an openness to changing one’s most cherished beliefs in the face of evidence. We show our respect for people of different views by arguing with them. This is because we believe that people are sensible and will listen to reason, lest we be guilty of the condescension of feigned deference and politeness, which passive-aggressively insinuates the unreasonableness of an adversary by keeping what you believe is true from them. We respect people enough to call them out when they are lying because we believe that they are not cynics and that they genuinely care about truth and the lives of the human beings their opinions affect.

The Church already recognizes some linkage between unplanned pregnancies and a life of hardship, albeit half-heartedly. Their promotion of the archaic and ineffective “natural family planning” betrays their hypocrisy. As HL Mencken notes, “It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.” They will eventually catch up with the modern ethics of sexuality and contraception, like it has with slavery and witch burning, give or take a few centuries. But until they do, their opinions on morality and human experience are as invalid and as retrograde as Pro-Life Philippines’ opinions on neuroscience and the effect of Satan on the prefrontal cortex.

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Pope Benedict says it may be a good idea for Male Prostitutes to use Condoms

After having been shoved and shouted at last night by pro-life Catholics who call the RH Bill and modern contraception the road that leads straight to death, I may be forgiven for taking the headline “Pope says condoms may be OK in some circumstances” as a joke, especially since the cited circumstance is to prevent the transmission of HIV. After all, this is the same Pope who condemned the use of condoms even in AIDS-ravaged Africa, from the same Church whose self-proclaimed “real” members just hours ago handed out pamphlets that claimed that condoms helped the spread of AIDS. How on earth could condom use ever be justified?

Apparently, if you’re a male prostitute.

Of course, since the Catholic Church is still opposed to contraceptives as a means to prevent pregnancy, we must take it to mean that this justification only applies to male prostitutes whose use of condoms does not affect any potential for procreation.

That’s right, gay prostitutes.

In so many roundabout words the Pope says in a an upcoming book that he thinks it’s a good idea for gay prostitutes to wear condoms, because “the intention of reducing the risk of infection” is “a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility”, but maintains that for Africa, abstinence is the only sure way to combat HIV/AIDS. This begs the question of course of whether the circumstance of monogamous married couples where one spouse is infected are offered the same leniency as male prostitutes, or because using a condom still prevents the potential for conception we are meant to understand that the official Catholic stance remains; condoms are still outright forbidden.

This double standard Pope Benedict seems to have adopted in favor of the protection of male prostitutes and their clients seems all the more sickening in the face of the rising number of HIV/AIDS cases in Africa and around the world. It makes me wonder, perhaps with some amusement, if this was brought about by a rising number of HIV/AIDS cases among the clergy.

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