MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers hailed the passage of the new law strengthening the country’s comprehensive policy on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), saying human rights is one of its central principles.
On Wednesday, January 9, Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao and Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin – two of the law’s principal authors – welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing of the HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018.
The new law replaces the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 to restructure the legal framework on HIV and AIDS by harmonizing it with evidence-informed strategies and approaches on prevention, testing, screening, treatment, care, and support. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Global HIV/AIDS cases still on the rise)
“In the new law, human rights is valued as a core guiding principle. It is mentioned 10 times and even has its own section. In the old law, human rights is mentioned once only,” said Bag-ao.
She explained that the law would help ensure the public will become politically correct and sensitive toward people living with HIV and AIDS, as the measure looks at both HIV and AIDS as public health concerns. (READ: Person living with HIV grateful for priest’s hug and acceptance)
“In fact, we changed all reference to the ‘HIV and AIDS epidemic’ to ‘HIV and AIDS situation.’ Mukhang maliit na bagay, pero hindi (It may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t). Words are loaded with so much meaning, and in this issue where stigma is a big problem, we need to be careful in the words we use,” said Bag-ao.
Villarin said the HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018 will also help persons living with HIV (PLHIVs) to be less afraid of coming out.
“State recognition of their rights will be ensured and adequate and proper care will be afforded. While changes in perception and mindset will not happen overnight, it is a giant step in the right direction,” said the congressman.
“This is a long overdue but a clear and concrete step towards addressing the rising incidence of HIV in the country, and a beacon of hope for people living with HIV that help is on the way,” he added.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who authored the Senate version of the bill, said in a statement that the Palace announcement on the signing of the law “is a great way to start the new year.”
“We now have a modern policy to curb the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the country. In September of last year alone, there were 954 new cases of HIV in the country, many of which involved young people. With this law, the government can now effectively update and upgrade its response to this growing problem,” she said.
Hontiveros added that the law “offers hope to future generations,” especially in the Philippines where there has been an increase in the number of new cases.
“As the only country in Southeast Asia where the number of new cases is on the rise – and where there has been a 170% increase among those aged 15-24 – the measure provides young Filipinos with the correct information and healthy values that will protect them from the disease,” she said.
“Many lives have been unnecessarily lost due to AIDS, including the lives of many young people. Today, we change the course of this rising epidemic and hopefully, help usher in an AIDS-free generation,” she added.
What are the highlights of the new law? Bag-ao listed several highlights of the HIV and AIDS Policy Act:
- Clarify the roles and responsibilities of state institutions involved in the HIV and AIDS response, ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of the structure governing the response
- Establish a road map on HIV and AIDS that has clear strategies, targets, operationalization framework, and funding
- Strengthen the information dissemination, education, and stigma reduction mechanisms of the law, which guarantees that the country’s HIV and AIDS response is premised on the respect, recognition, and promotion of human rights and dignity
- Restructure the Philippine National AIDS Council and give it the power to identify gaps in the national response and initiate interventions to address these concerns.
- Provide greater protection for confidentiality for PLHIVs
- Prohibit bullying of PLHIVs based on actual or perceived HIV status
- Guarantee PLHIVs that they will not be deprived of any employment or livelihood because of their HIV status
Bag-ao also said the law allows 15- to 18-year-olds to get tested for HIV without parental consent. She said this is crucial as many people go through their “sexual debut” when they are minors. (READ: Orgies and Tinder: Millennials are having sex, some with a deadly price)
“While we seek to educate people to be responsible in their sexual behavior, we need to look at this reality…. Those below 15 and who happen to be pregnant or engaged in high-risk behavior can undergo testing and counseling with the assistance of a licensed social worker or health worker,” said Bag-ao.
The Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) said that as many as 32 people were diagnosed with HIV-AIDS every day in 2018.
PNAC estimated that there would be about 265,900 cases of Filipinos with HIV and AIDS in the next decade if not enough is done by the government and individuals to address this public health issue. – Rappler.com
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