House bill for stronger HIV/AIDS fight approved

Jess Diaz, Shiela Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
House bill for stronger HIV/AIDS fight approved

The bill consolidates several related measures and is titled “Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act.” Boy Santos, File

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives committee on health has approved a bill that seeks to strengthen the fight against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) amid rising new cases in the country.

The bill consolidates several related measures and is titled “Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act.”

The Department of Health (DOH), meanwhile, announced that to curb the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines, a total of 200 men having sex with men (MSM) would take part in the pilot-testing of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an anti-retroviral medication that prevents HIV infection.

DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial said that PrEP is still on “pilot stage” and not yet included in the “routine” treatment programs of the department for HIV/AIDS.

Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, who chairs the committee on health, said the measure “declares it a state policy that HIV and AIDS are public health concerns that have wide-ranging social, political and economic repercussions.” 

“It further declares that the state shall uphold, respect, protect, fulfill and promote human rights and dignity as the cornerstone of an effective response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” she said.

The still unnumbered substitute bill approved in July proposes to strengthen the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) as the central policy-making, planning, coordinating and advisory body on programs to fight HIV/AIDS.

The council would be an independent agency attached to the DOH.

It would be tasked to develop a national AIDS/HIV medium-term plan, implement such plan and work on stronger collaboration with other agencies, civil society groups and other stakeholders.

Acts and practices prohibited under the bill include discrimination of HIV/AIDS-afflicted persons in the workplace and in learning institutions; restrictions on travel, habitation and shelter; exclusion from public, credit and insurance services; discrimination in hospitals and health institutions; denial of burial services and bullying.

The bill also prohibits misinformation on HIV and AIDS, including false or misleading advertising in any form of media.

Violators would face imprisonment of six years to 12 or a fine of P50,000 to P500,000 or both upon the discretion of the court. If the violation involves a business establishment, it could lose its license or permit to operate.

The same penalties would be imposable on any person who knowingly or negligently causes another to get infected with HIV through unsafe and unsanitary procedure.

Among the authors of the measures that were consolidated into the proposed Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act are Harry Roque Jr. of Kabayan, Pia Cayetano of Taguig, Estrellita Suansing of Nueva Ecija, Gus Tambunting of Parañaque, Sandra Eriguel of La Union, Tom Villarin of Akbayan and Teodoro Baguilat Jr. of Ifugao.

DOH said the country’s HIV infection rate grew by 140 percent from 2010 to 2016, with two out of three new HIV infections among MSM aged 15 to 24 years old.

It added MSM accounted for 85 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in the country while the remaining 15 percent are composed of injecting drug users, sex workers and their clients and general population.

The number of new HIV infections documented by the DOH had also reached 1,098 last May – the highest since the DOH established the HIV/AIDS Registry in 1984. The figure is 48 percent higher than the 741 cases documented in the same month last year.

Also last May, the DOH had documented 44,010 HIV/AIDS cases, indicating that the country is seeing 29 new cases daily, up from one case in 2008 and 26 cases in 2016.   

Based on a report of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS released last week, the Philippines posted the highest increase in new HIV cases in the Asia-Pacific region over the past six years.  

The UNAIDS’ 2017 report indicates the rate of HIV infection in the Philippines has become the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.

HIV surveillance head of the Department of Health-Epidemiology Bureau Genesis Samonte said social media seemed to be playing a role in the soaring cases of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines. ?

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