Filipino United Methodists Focus on HIV Epidemic

John Mark Santiago, former student governor of the College of Education local council at Wesleyan University-Philippines, signs paperwork to have his blood tested at an HIV and AIDS education and prevention forum at the university in Cabanatuan City, Philippines, on Oct. 30. Photo by Jon Balagan

United Methodist leaders and youth are among those collaborating on ways to stop the “ugly and alarming” rise in HIV cases in the Philippines.

HIV and AIDS is a national emergency in the country, said Wilfredo C. Ramos, a United Methodist and dean of the College of Nursing and Allied Medical Sciences at United Methodist-related Wesleyan University-Philippines.

“HIV cases in the Philippines have increased by 174% in the past eight years and (the number) is still growing,” Ramos said. “The numbers and are quite ugly and very alarming.”

Ramos was among the speakers at an Oct. 30 HIV and AIDS education and prevention forum held at the university.

Called “Critical Thinkers: Steadfast in Pursuing Shalom,” the forum was a collaboration between John Wesley Academy and Critical Thinking Center (a program of the Middle Philippines Conference in collaboration with Wesleyan University-Philippines), the Cabanatuan City Health Office and the Center for Health and Hope.

More than 150 students, seminarians, clergy and members of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship went through counseling and blood screening at the event.

The forum was held a little more than a month before World AIDS Day. The global health day takes place Dec. 1 each year and is dedicated to fighting against HIV, supporting those living with the virus and commemorating those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.

Khristine Leah De Leon, a member of United Methodist City Temple, was among the youth who attended the forum. She said she was alarmed by the rise in HIV cases, especially in Cabanatuan City.

Cabanatuan City, where Wesleyan University-Philippines is located, has the highest number of cases in the country, said Dr. Arminda A. Adecer, a health officer with the city health office in Cabanatuan City and lay member at United Methodist City Temple.

She said the city has three testing centers, including one at the city health office.

“We want to saturate the entire city in order for us to help those who tested positive get proper treatment while those who tested non-reactive or negative to maintain that status,” she said.

The Rev. Donald E. Messer, executive director and founder of the Center for Health and Hope, addressed the forum and shared five ways to end the epidemic in the Philippines, including tackling cultural and church taboos and encouraging volunteer counseling, testing and treatment.

For almost 20 years, the center has supported and advocated for persons affected by HIV and AIDS through programs of education, prevention, care and treatment.

Messer, who led similar forums in 2016 and 2017, said that he chose to return to the Philippines because he wants to promote education and prevention.

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Source: United Methodist News