ALARMED by rising HIV [human immunodeficiency virus]cases in the Philippines, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Friday urged her colleagues to act on measures aimed at strengthening efforts at prevention and treatment and creating awareness on the virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Santiago, co-sponsor of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, sounded the alarm after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 560 new HIV infections in April, 42 percent higher than for the same period in 2014.
Noting that 30 percent of the victims were 15 to 24 years old, the senator said “the alarming increase in HIV infections requires immediate action from various institutions, including Congress, which must address the gaps in the existing HIV and AIDS law.”
Santiago has filed Senate Bill 186 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy and Plan Act, and SB 2728 or the Stop AIDS in Prisons Act. She is also set to file another bill that will expand HIV testing and treatment to include the youth.
“The current HIV and AIDS legal framework conflicts with efforts of the health sector to stop the spread of HIV,” she said, adding that aside from treatment and awareness programs, mechanisms to reduce social stigma are also necessary.
The Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Plan Bill seeks to amend Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, by harmonizing it with evidence-informed strategies and approaches on prevention, treatment, care and support.
The Stop AIDS in Prisons Act, meanwhile, will create an HIV-AIDS awareness program in jails, provide comprehensive medical treatment to inmates living with HIV/AIDS and protect prison guards and other personnel from infection.
Through the new bill, Santiago will push for further amendments to the AIDS Prevention and Control Act to allow minors aged 15 to 17 years old to give consent to HIV testing and treatment without parental consent provided that: the minor is living independently, pregnant, already a parent or has suffered a miscarriage, has no contact with parents of guardians, has clinical condition that suggests infection with HIV and part of key populations as determined by the Philippine National AIDS Council; and knowledge of HIV status is in the best interest of the minor.
“The law requires minors to first obtain written parental consent before they can be tested for HIV. This limits the access of minors to potentially life-saving treatment and care, especially since many young people lack the finances to pay for health care,” she said.