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Dep’t of Health updates guidelines on handling PLHIV cadaver for embalming, burial

With AO No. 2021-0056-A, the DOH is now excluding HIV from the list of “dangerous communicable diseases”. Moving forward, the remains of people with HIV will now be allowed to be undertaken, embalmed, cremated or buried following “standard operating procedures and protocols.”

Photo by @xoutcastx from Unsplash.com

Took the Department of Health (DOH) long enough.

In the 3rd quarter of 2016, L.L. – who used to work for a non-government organizations focusing on LGBTQIA human rights in Cebu City – passed away due to AIDS-related complications. What his family members, his parents in particular, remembered what how “rushed” everything seemed to be since L.L.’s health deteriorated until his demise.

L.L.’s mother’s voice – attending to those who visited their home in the week after her son passed away – cracked while she recalled their experience, as if asking for an explanation or some action to be taken because “di kapani-paniwala ang pinagdaanan namin (what we went through is unbelievable)’.”

The moment L.L. died, he was wrapped in plastic. Then his parents were told that – according to law – L.L. needed to be buried within 24 hours; this is supposed to guarantee his dead body won’t “spread” HIV. As soon as his lifeless body was in the coffin, they wrapped the coffin in plastic, too. And then they were “monitored” to make sure that they followed the supposed specifics in the “law”.

That experience was “beyond traumatizing” for L.L.’s family. They did not only lose a loved one, but – instead of being allowed to grieve – was “shamed” for it since L.L.’s HIV status was forcibly disclosed to the entire community. No thanks to the law stipulating how the bodies of dead PLHIVs were supposed to be handled, the Code of Sanitation of the Philippines (PD 856).

ILL-INFORMED, ANTIQUATED AND DISCRIMINATORY

In November 2021, the DOH released Administrative Order (AO) No. 2021-0056, which classified HIV as among “dangerous communicable diseases”. As such, “embalming should not be performed”, with the body to be “placed in a robust and leak and leak-free plastic bag of not less than 150 μm thick, which should be zippered or closed tightly with tapes and bandage strips”.

The same AO stated that: the remains of PLHIVs shall be buried or cremated within 24 hours; and no embalming of the remains shall take place.

The AO is not in line with best practices – for instance, in France, the ban on embalming bodies of HIV-positive people was lifted in 2017, which is not surprising considering that “no environmentally mediated mode of HIV transmission has been documented”.

MAKING CHANGES

With AO No. 2021-0056-A, the DOH is now excluding HIV from the list of “dangerous communicable diseases”, citing the passage of the Republic Act (RA) 11166, or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act”, for the amendment. This means that – moving forward – the remains of people with HIV will now be allowed to be undertaken, embalmed, cremated or buried following “standard operating procedures and protocols.”

LONG-DELAYED CHANGE

AO No. 2021-0056-A now, specifically, stipulates that “undertaking, embalming, cremation and burial services of the remains of a deceased person who had HIV and AIDS (sic) or who was known, suspected, or perceived to be HIV-positive shall be allowed and shall follow standard operating procedures and protocols.”

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Likewise – again because of RA 11166 – “denial of embalming and burial services for a deceased person (with HIV)… shall be prohibited with corresponding penalties under (the law) and its implementing rules and regulations.”

Changes that, hopefully, will prevent what happened to L.L.’s family from happening again.

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"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

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