Recently an article appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The headlines read “Church: Don’t judge those with HIV/AIDS”. The Catholic Church issued a statement that the public should not judge people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes the dreaded Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Fr. Dan Cancino, who, along with myself, is also a member of CAPCHA (Catholic Asia-Pacific Coalition on HIV/AIDS), said people with HIV should be given emotional and spiritual support instead of being discriminated against. He says that “The “The first question should NOT be, ‘How did you get infected?’”
“Many people with HIV want to change their behavior but do not have the support” is a major problem facing Asia-Pacific countries. It is of interest to note that the Philippines and Japan are two of only five Asian countries where the the rate of HIV infection continues to rise at an alarming pace. Is society excited, is the Catholic Church speaking out?
Msgr. Robert Vitillo, a special adviser to CAPCHA and Caritas Internationalis, said at our last meeting in Thailand last September that discrimination against people with HIV in Asia remains a “very serious” problem with stigma and rejection even by family members. He said we need to teach people to take care of those in their families and those in their neighborhood living with HIV.
Bishop Isao Kikuchi, Ms Nobyuo Miyamoto, Ms Kazuko Ito and myself represented Japan at the 2012 CAPCHA Conference in September. We spent five days together, exchanging ideas and sharing information about the HIV situation in Japan. During my presentation, I strongly suggested that “We should have one voice in Asia as a Church!” With the hugh migration taking place, an overall approach is necessary to stop the epidemic. A lot of Asian workers travel to surrounding countries for jobs and return home with the HIV virus. In Japan, most women receive the virus from their husbands.
Many foreigners who live in Japan are surprised to learn that HIV and AIDS is increasing rapidly in Japan. While HIV/AIDS infections in North America, Western Europe and Australia peaked in the late 1980s, Japan’s HIV infections have continued to increase. It is difficult to obtain exact data in Japan since a number of families do not report the case to authorities due to the shame it brings on the family. Concerning AIDS cases in particular, an HIV infected case once registered as an “HIV case” is NOT registered as “AIDS case” even if he/she subsequently develops AIDS; consequently, many AIDS cases are still listed as HIV cases.
The number of AIDS cases reported in 2011 was the largest since the HIV/AIDS surveillance started in Japan. The group most at risk of HIV is the MSM group – men having sex with other men. The age group with highest incidence for HIV cases is 20-30 year olds, and that for AIDS cases is 30-40 year olds. Geographically, Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi and their surrounding areas continue to report large number of HIV/AIDS cases and more recently other areas including Kyushu area started to report increasingly. It is interesting to note that in 2011, 51% of non-Japanese HIV males were infected in Japan. Sex tours make up most of the other half.
The Catholic Church is actually at the forefront of the global fight against HIV and AIDS being responsible for up to 75 percent of the care in developing countries. She does not support the widespread distribution of condoms because there is no evidence that this strategy is effective at a population wide level.
In Japan, many people with HIV want to change their behavior but do not have support. How can we, as Oblates and the Catholic Church, help to support people with HIV and become more involved in their lives? How can we stamp out the stigma and rejection facing them from society and family members?
For a brief summary on HIV/AIDS trends in Japan published in February 2012, go to the following link: http://www.unaids.org/en/dataanalysis/knowyourresponse/countryprogressreports/2012countries/ce_JP_Narrative_Report.pdf
WEBSITE: Catholic Asia-Pacific Coalition on HIV/AIDS – http://capcha.org/