The House of Representatives of the Philippines voted 188-0 to pass on 3rd and final reading House Bill 6617 (or the “Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act”), which eyes to reform the country’s existing HIV and AIDS-related law, RA 8504.
HB 6617 particularly wants to see the:
- Restructuring of the legal framework on HIV and AIDS by harmonizing it with evidence-informed strategies and approaches on prevention, testing, screening, treatment, care, and support, making the HIV response flexible and relevant to the characteristic of the HIV epidemic facing the country;
- Clarifying of the roles and responsibilities of state institutions involved in the HIV and AIDS response, from government agencies to local governments, thus ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of the structure governing the response;
- Establishing of the National Multi-Sectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan, thus creating a road map on HIV and AIDS that has clear strategies, targets, operationalization framework, and funding; and
- Strengthening of the information dissemination, education, and stigma reduction mechanisms of the law, which guarantees that the country’s HIV and AIDS response is premised on the respect, recognition, and promotion of human rights and dignity.
The bill will create a six-year plan updated regularly by an overhauled council, to assess the country’s methods and strategies to address the HIV and AIDS situation.
It similarly seeks to educate the public through age-appropriate HIV and AIDS prevention programs, with the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority taking the lead.
Discriminatory acts committed against people living with HIV will have stiffer penalties compared with the existing law. Those who commit violations shall incur a penalty of imprisonment of six months to five years, as well as a fine P50,000 to P500,000. Among the discrminatory acts are: discrimination in the workplace, discrimination in learning institutions, restrictions on travel, restrictions on shelter, inhibition from public services, exclusion from credit and insurance services, discrimination in hospitals and health institutions, denial of burial services, and acts of bullying.
The bill also upholds the confidentiality of the HIV status of a PLHIV.
According to Dinagat Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, one of the champions of the bill, the new bill would put emphasis on the human rights of people living with HIV. “It’s bothersome that not once is ‘human rights’ mentioned in the old law. In our version of the law, human rights is the anchor of our policy,” she said.
The Senate version of the bill is on its second reading.
There are already 46,985 HIV-positive cases in the country since January 1984 (when the first case was reported/documented) to August 2017. The figure is estimated to reach 142,000 by 2022 and 313,000 by 2030. Up to 31 new HIV infections happen in the country every day.