WHO backs government in condom clash with Catholic Church

Manila, Philippines - The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday backed the Philippine government's efforts to promote the use of condoms to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, despite strong objections from the Catholic Church.

A row between the Department of Health and Roman Catholic bishops erupted in February when state health workers gave out free condoms before Valentine's Day as part of the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign.

The bishops alleged that condoms were ineffective in preventing HIV/AIDS, encouraged promiscuity and contributed to the erosion of morals in the country. At least 80 per cent of the more than 90 million Filipinos say they follow the Catholic religion.

A WHO official said quality condoms were an 'extremely effective protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.'

'The correct and consistent use of good quality condoms confers a level of protection as high as 85 to 90 per cent against HIV transmission,' WHO Philippines representative Soe Nyunt-U said.

'Male and female condoms, when properly kept, stored, handled and used, are the only scientifically proven barrier products currently available against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,' he added.

Data from the Philippine health department and WHO showed an alarming increase in HIV cases in the country in recent years.

'The number of newly reported HIV infections increased from one infection every three days in 2000, to one infection per day in 2007 and two infections per day in 2009,' a WHO statement said.

As of January, 4,400 documented cases of HIV/AIDS infections have been reported in the country since the government started tracking its spread in 1984.

Soe cited the experiences of Cambodia and Thailand as proof that condoms are a potent tool against the spread of AIDS.

'Countries that have implemented robust 100 per cent condom-use programmes have been able to contain their fast-growing HIV epidemics first, and reverse the trend within a relatively short period of time,' he said.

But bishops and priests instead propose abstinence and the strict practice of monogamy as the most effective way to fight the sexually transmitted disease.