Hontiveros takes HIV test to fight stigma against virus

David Lozada

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Hontiveros takes HIV test to fight stigma against virus
The lawmaker is pushing for a new law that will create new strategies for the government to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros underwent a voluntary HIV test on Tuesday, November 29, to lift the stigma against the disease and raise awareness for World AIDS Day on December 1.

The lawmaker said she got tested to show the public that there is nothing to fear or be ashamed about. “It’s a test that can spell life or death,” Hontiveros added.

The Philippines has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world. According to the Department of Health (DOH), around 25 people get HIV in the Philippines every day. If the epidemic is not curbed, the number of people living with HIV (PLHIVs) may reach 133,000 by 2022, the health department estimates.

Getting tested is a crucial preventive step to stop the spread of HIV, an infection that can lead to the breakdown of the body’s immune system through Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). 

“We need to break down this barrier that prevents Filipinos from getting tested, especially that one in two persons living with HIV is not diagnosed,” said Hontiveros, who is the chairperson of the Senate committee on health and demography. 

Hontiveros added that the increase on the rate of HIV incidence in the country is alarming as global HIV incidence is decreasing. (READ: Thailand first in Asia to eliminate mother-to-baby HIV)

Young people most affected

According to government data, 80% of new infections come from men having sex with men.

“The median age of new cases is 28 years old, and more than 80% of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines are under 35,” Niccolo Cosme, co-founder of The Red Whistle, earlier said.

“Young people are at the losing end of the fight against HIV,” Hontiveros said, citing some of adolescents’ “risky behavior” that leads to the spread of the virus. 

She added: “We need information that leads to action. Behavioral change comes from people who are well informed. As long as we discuss HIV and the need to be tested in hushed voices, more people are risking their lives.”

Hontiveros urged government to step up its role in curbing the epidemic.

“Early diagnosis leads to early treatment and saves lives. Prevention, early detection, and treatment must be made available by the government. No one deserves a death sentence,” she said.

In August 2016, Hontiveros filed Senate Bill 376 or the Philippine HIV-AIDS Policy Bill, which will create new strategies for the government to respond to the epidemic, incorporating lessons from the present response. The bill also seeks “a comprehensive, inclusive and localized response towards HIV-AIDS.”

If passed, SB 376 will repeal Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine HIV AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.

Hontiveros maintained that new available developments in treatment and prevention must be used by the government in its response.

“A scientific, human-rights based, and gender-sensitive national policy is needed to address this rising epidemic,” she concluded. – Rappler.com

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