WATCH: Pia Wurtzbach's first public HIV testing in PH
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines' former Miss Universe conducted a public HIV test in Manila on Wednesday, Augusy 9 a week after the United Nations said her country had the fastest-growing number of infections in Asia.
Pia Wurtzbach, UNAIDS goodwill ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, took the test in front of reporters as part of her efforts to raise awareness of HIV and remove the stigma surrounding the virus in the conservative nation.
The United Nations and the government said last week the Philippines saw a 140 percent increase in new cases from 2010 to 2016, bucking a regional trend that saw infections decline by 13 percent over the same period.
"It is very tricky in the Philippines because we're a predominantly Catholic country and we are conservative. That's why it can be quite a challenge to spread awareness on this issue," Pia said.
"This is a problem that's really happening right now and if we don't do anything about it, we're gonna be number one in the world."
The nation of 100 million people, of whom 80% are Catholic, is heavily influenced by the church which frowns on contraceptive use. Testing for HIV is also considered taboo.
Pia has been campaigning for HIV awareness since winning the 2015 beauty pageant. She secured the crown following a major blunder in which host Steve Harvey initially gave it to Miss Colombia in error.
On Wednesday Pia launched an HIV information campaign for young people as she expressed support for proposed laws which would allow 15-year-olds to get an HIV test without parental consent. The minimum age is now 18.
Accoridng to a press release, the Project Progressive Information Awareness campaign, or the PIA project, will focus on spreading information on HIV and sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), and promoting self-worth among the youth.
“With the PIA project, we hope to see an increase in HIV awareness, spread love for people living with HIV, and make HIV testing among Filipinos a normal part of their health and wellness routine,” Pia said in the release. “I believe we can strengthen our bonds and achieve our shared goal of ending AIDS in the Philippines, Asia-Pacific and the universe.”
The health department had said most reported HIV cases were among men having sex with men. This group on average started having sex at 16 before they began using condoms or taking tests, increasing the risk of infection.
"We hope to see an increase in the rates of regular HIV testing among Filipinos to normalize the procedure as a regular medical exam," Pia said. – Rappler.com