Miriam: HIV epidemic waiting to happen in PH

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, one of the champions of the reproductive health bill, is proposing a new measure promoting condom use. This time, the bill aims to curb what she calls the alarming growth in HIV incidence.

To mark World Aids Day on December 1, Thursday, Santiago filed the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy and Plan Act. Aside from promoting “consistent and correct condom use,” the bill mandates government to push for safe sex, to provide access to treatment, and to educate the public on HIV and AIDS.

Senate Bill 3072 aims to reform and update the legal framework on HIV and AIDS. Santiago said the spread of HIV is fast outpacing a similar law passed 13 years ago.

“[The Philippines] has all the necessary ingredients for an HIV epidemic: condom use is low among Filipinos; and among key populations, sexually transmitted infections and multiple sexual partnerships are common,” Santiago wrote in the bill’s explanatory note.

Citing government epidemiologists, Santiago said HIV infection in the Philippines grew from one a day prior to 2007 to seven new infections a day in 2011. By 2015, she said reported HIV cases may reach 45,000 from 7,000 this year.

Key provisions of the bill include:

1) Educating students

The bill calls for an integrated basic and age-appropriate education on the causes, modes of transmission, and prevention of HIV and AIDS. This applies to both public and private schools at intermediate grades, secondary and tertiary levels. Teachers are required to undergo government-supervised seminars.

2) Educating workers, OFWs, vulnerable communities

The bill requires basic HIV and AIDS education programs in the workplace including topics on confidentiality and reducing discrimination. Filipinos going abroad will also be made to undergo a seminar on HIV and AIDS.

The bill also requires government support and funding for education programs for vulnerable communities including men in relationship with men, drug users and sex workers.

3) Giving free access to treatment

The bill mandates the Health Department to provide free and accessible treatment and health services to Filipinos with HIV and AIDS.

4) Setting guidelines on blood donation

The bill bars any laboratory or institution from accepting an organ or tissue donation unless a sample from the donor tested negative for HIV.

5) Prohibiting discrimination

The bill prohibits discriminatory acts like the rejection of job application due to an actual, perceived or suspected HIV status. Other discriminatory acts include restrictions on travel within the Philippines because of HIV. 

Santiago said, “Government officials take false comfort from the fact that the HIV epidemic has not reached the general population, but various indicators show that if nothing is done immediately, it would just be a matter of time.”