MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law that seeks to strengthen government response to the growing number of Human Immunodeficiency Virus - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS) cases in the country, Palace officials said Wednesday.
Duterte’s former top aide Bong Go was first to confirm that the President has signed Republic Act 11166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018, which shall update and repeal the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.
Under the law, a copy of which Malacañang released on Tuesday, the government is mandated to establish programs and policies and adopt a multi-sectoral approach to prevent the spread of HIV, and ensure access to HIV and AIDS-related services “by eliminating the climate of stigma and discrimination” on patients.
The Philippine National AIDS Council is reconstituted and streamlined to ensure effective implementation of the country’s response to the spread of HIV and AIDS among the population.
The law also provides penalties to people who will discriminate against HIV-positive individuals.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement that the programs will be carried out “in accordance with evidence-based strategies and approaches which are in tune with key principles of human rights, gender equality and meaningful participation of communities.”
Panelo said the law’s passage is timely and relevant after records showed that the Philippines has one of the highest increases in HIV cases in the Asia-Pacific from 2010 to 2016.
“We laud our lawmakers including various stakeholders who immensely contributed to the passage of an updated legal framework addressing HIV and AIDS. This piece of landmark legislation will significantly reduce the stigma of people living with HIV-AIDS,” Panelo said.
OVER 60,000 HIV CASES SINCE 1984
Data from the Department of Health showed there was a total of 945 new HIV cases in November 2018, bringing the total number of HIV infections to 10,550 in the first 11 months of 2018.
A total of 61,152 HIV cases have been recorded in the Philippines since government started keeping track of the spread of the viral infection in the Philippines in 1984.
But experts and advocates believe that more cases have yet to be reported as some HIV-positive people may not be aware of their status due to the refusal to undergo screenings or they are simply unaware of the process.
HIV can be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk.
In the Philippines, most cases in the past years were reported among men who have sex with men. DOH records show that of the 61,152 HIV positive individuals recorded since 1984, a staggering 57,235 were male.
Advocates are urging sexually active individuals to practice safe sex, adding that being HIV-positive is not a death sentence as the government provides anti-retroviral treatment to patients so they would not develop AIDS, in which opportunistic infections take their toll on a patient’s body.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, principal author and co-sponsor of the law, said the measure “affirms a human rights-based, humane and scientific approach in addressing HIV and AIDS.”
“It will protect the rights of persons living with HIV, afford accessible treatment through updated health technologies, and educate more people for prevention and de-stigmatization,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“The law offers hope to future generations. As the only country in Southeast Asia where the number of new cases is on the rise - and where there has been a 170 percent 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.”
Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, who filed the bill during her first term in the House of Representatives, said in a separate statement that the new law seeks to "ensure political correctness and sensitivity" on HIV-AIDS patients.
She said the law underscores human rights and measures against discrimination against the afflicted.
To those diagnosed with the disease, Bag-ao had a message.
"We see you and we hear you. You are not invisible. We listen to your stories—especially those told through your anonymous accounts on Twitter. Many may not know about your world in the realm of social media—but we are not one of those people," she said.