A new HIV/Aids bill to tackle the Philippines’ epidemic could become law before World Aids Day on December 1.
The Philippines’ HIV crisis is one of the worst in the world, with a 174 per cent increase in new infections since 2010, according to UNAIDS. There have been 7,579 new HIV cases this year.
But, a new bill to restructure how the Philippines tackles prevention, testing, and treatment of HIV and Aids could be just months away. It will replace the 20-year-old Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the bill on 10 October. It is now just waiting for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature, according to one of the bill’s authors.
‘The reconciled bicameral-approved bill is a done deal,’ lawmaker Ron Salo told the Philippine News Agency.
‘The Department of Health and other concerned agencies can now formulate the implementing rules and regulations, so that the new law can be carried out sooner rather than later,’ he said.
Tackling the Philippines’ ‘national emergency’
Health professionals have described the high HIV rates, especially among 15 to 24-year-old men who have sex with men and transgender women, as a ‘national emergency.’
Low condom use in the Philippines is the primary reason for the dramatic increase in HIV infections, according to experts.
The predominately-Catholic country is socially conservative, which prevents access to condoms.
Moreover, laws prohibit health-care workers from providing people younger than 18 years with protection. Laws also forbid HIV testing for under 18s without parental consent.
The Philippines government has failed to advocate condom use and provide adequate sex education, Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch told The Lancet HIV earlier this month.
What’s in the new bill?
The new law clarifies the roles of government bodies and gives them the power to tackle the crisis. It institutionalizes a national-level plan with a multi-year strategy to tackle the epidemic.
Lawmakers have said it is human-rights based, and will ensure the dignity of people living with HIV.
It will remove the age-related restrictions to HIV testing and tackle discrimination in healthcare institutions.
Importantly, it ensures government funding for programs currently at-risk as international donors reduce aid.
The law guarantees free HIV treatment, including medicines to treat HIV-related infections. It also provides for care and support programs for PLHIVs.
Critics have noted the bill falls short on some points. For example, it promotes abstinence and fidelity rather than condom use.