Rep. Rene L. Relampagos expressed alarm over the rising cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) among the Filipino youth, stressing the need to strengthen the country’s policy on HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) prevention, treatment, care, and support.
Almost 1,000 new HIV/AIDS cases — or 968 cases to be exact — were reported last March, the highest figure in the country since 1984, the Department of Health (DOH) said. Metro Manila topped the list with most cases of HIV, with 309 (32 percent); followed by Calabarzon with 135 (14 percent); Central Luzon with 107 (11 percent); Central Visayas with 76 (8 percent); and Davao Region, with 52 sufferers (5 percent). The rest, 289 cases, are in different parts of the country.
The lawmaker notes, “The issues on HIV and AIDS are sensitive and alarming. Aside from the substantial increase in HIV/AIDS cases, DOH also reports that persons getting affected are getting younger. We should understand that HIV/AIDS concerns not only the person affected but also his/her family and the community. In human rights, person affected with HIV/AIDS and persons living with them are considered vulnerable sectors of society and there are many and valid reasons for that.”
The DOH already reported 2,661 cases of HIV and 155 deaths during the first quarter of the year.
“This situation calls for the urgent repeal of the Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Law of 1998. This 14-year-old law was once hailed as a model legislation, but clearly the spread of HIV is outpacing its regulatory framework. The preventive interventions that it prescribes are no longer fully aligned with what years of experience and evidence on HIV prevention recommend. It lacks enabling mechanisms to enforce its human rights provisions,” Cong. Relampagos stressed.
House Bill No. 53, co-authored by Cong. Relampagos, seeks to establish the Philippine National AIDS Council as an attached agency of the DOH, which shall act as the policy-making, planning, coordinating and advisory body of the Philippine National HIV and AIDS Program. It is tasked to develop National Multi-Sectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan; monitor the progress of the epidemic; coordinate, organize and work in partnership with foreign and international organizations regarding funding, data collection, research, and prevention and treatment of modalities on HIV and AIDS; advocate for policy reforms to Congress, and other government agencies to strengthen the country’s response to the epidemic; and submit an annual report to the Office of the President, Congress and members of the Council; among others.
Moreover, the bill aims to disseminate information on HIV and AIDS through education and prevention programs in schools, workplace, communities, prisons and other closed-setting institutions. Education will also be provided for Filipinos going abroad through the Department of Foreign Affairs; for tourists and transients through the Department of Tourism and other concerned agencies; and for key populations and vulnerable communities through local government units and civil society organizations. The DOH shall also integrate a program to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission that shall be integrated in its maternal and child health services. It shall also make health services and health insurance accessible to Filipino indigents, ensuring adequate care and support for persons living with HIV and AIDS.
“We do not just need to strengthen our policies on AIDS prevention and control, we also need to work on information dissemination and support to people with HIV as well as strengthen our policies addressing other related issues,” the lawmaker concluded.