Change is coming… hopefully.
The Philippine Senate finally approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to reform the country’s 20-year-old legal framework and approach towards the prevention and control of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the country.
Senate Bill No. 1390, or the “Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act”, authored by Sens. Risa Hontiveros and Joseph Victor Ejercito, will update Republic Act 8504, or the “Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998,” to incorporate lessons from the current HIV response, as well as “to introduce newer evidence-based, human rights-informed, and gender transformative strategies to prevent and treat the epidemic.”
SB 1390 mandates the government to “improve access to HIV services, especially for key populations and vulnerable communities, and ensure social and financial risk protection for those who need to access these services.”
To do this, the bill mandates the allocation of more funds on HIV prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and require “up-to-date education about HIV and AIDS in schools, communities, workplaces and vulnerable areas.”
The bill will also compel the government to “enhance anti-discrimination protection to promote the human rights of Filipinos living with HIV, key populations and vulnerable communities, and providers of HIV services.”
In a statement, Hontiveros said that “at a time when stigma overrules government policies on this important health issue, we need to underscore that the foundation of curbing HIV must be based on the protection of human rights.” And so “this is our way of updating the government framework on HIV-AIDS. We need a scientific, medical, human rights-based and inclusive policy to fully address the problem.”
The number of HIV and AIDS cases in the country continues to rise, with the Department of Health (DOH) recording a total of 11,103 cases in 2017. Based on records, the 11,103 new infections seen in 2017 is higher than the 9,264 cases reported in 2016; 7,831 in 2015; 6,011 in 2014; 4,814 in 2013; and 3,338 in 2012.
The House of Representatives passed a similar measure in December 2017. Both chambers of Congress will now convene for a bicameral conference committee to finalize the bill’s version for ratification and the President’s signature to turn it into law.