Lawmakers told: Amend AIDS Law now

All-in_Iloilo_Presscon

ILOILO City, October 9—The “fast and furious” increase of new HIV infections in the country requires a stronger law for HIV, groups said on Friday.

The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) led the call on lawmakers to work double-time to pass a law providing for comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, amending Republic Act 8504 or the National AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.

The Philippines has now the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The number of HIV cases in the country has dramatically increased in recent years, totalling 27,138 cases since 1984. In July 2015, 682 new HIV cases were reported, according to the HIV/AIDS Registry of the Philippines.

The number of HIV cases, however, only account for less than 1 percent of the total Philippine population and remains concentrated on males having sex with males (MSM), persons who inject drugs, and sex workers. Nevertheless, around 28 percent of the cases documented so far this year are among young people (15-24 years old) – a fact that gravely concerns advocates.

Under RA 8504, minors are prohibited from accessing HIV testing and other related services without written parental or guardian consent – a legal barrier PLCPD wants to be removed. Easing access of minors to HIV testing is consistent with their right to make decisions, based on their evolving capacities, regarding their own health and well-being, PLCPD said in a statement.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the evolving capacities of children (persons 17 years old and below) – a principle holding that “as children acquire enhanced competencies, there is a reduced need for direction and a greater capacity to take responsibility for decisions affecting their lives.”

Mr. Augusto Rodriguez, UNICEF Philippines Social Policy Specialist, reiterated this argument and added that in designing HIV programs and services, the best interests and welfare of children must always be considered.

For her part, PLCPD vice chairperson, AAMBIS-OWA Rep. Sharon Garin said that “while we do recognize the critical role of the parents in guiding their children based on how they think should be their children’s way as they tread the path of life, studies from experts and testimonials from health service providers continue to show how vulnerable young people are to acquiring different sexually transmitted infections because of the influences that abound from the internet, peer pressure and insufficient age-appropriate information, education and communication materials.”

“We have to make the law responsive to the present context where we have an alarming ‘fast and furious’ HIV epidemic,” Rep. Garin added. She co-authored House Bill 5178 repealing RA 8504, which was passed on third reading by the Lower House in December 2014.
In the Senate, the bill is pending in the Committee on Health and Demography chaired by Sen. Pia Cayetano.

As part of the continuing efforts to call the attention of lawmakers to prioritize the passage of the bill, PLCPD organized today at Esplanade Iloilo a creative advocacy event titled, “ALL IN: Leave No One Behind as We Race to End AIDS”. For this event, PLCPD partnered with the offices of Congresswoman Sharon Garin, the Iloilo Provincial Health Office, DOH, DepEd, PopCom, DILG, PNP, PIA, Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, Office of Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor and Office of Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog, with support from UNICEF Philippines.