House OKs new measure to suppress HIV epidemic

THE House of Representatives has passed on second reading a bill revamping the country’s outmoded 14-year-old AIDS Prevention and Control Act, and mandating forceful new strategies to suppress the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic.

House Bill 6751 directs the multi-sectoral Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) to draw up a fresh six-year program with definite targets to reverse the average 62 percent annual increase in new HIV cases in the country since 2010.

HIV is being spread in the country primarily through high-risk sexual contact, predominantly male-to-male sex, and secondarily via needle-sharing among illicit drug users, according to the Department of Health.

The virus causes AIDS, or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The ailment that destroys the human body’s immu3e system still does not have any known cure, although expensive anti-retroviral treatment could slow down the virus.

“We have very high hopes that that bill, once finally enacted with the help of the Senate, will take our fight against HIV/AIDS to the next level with highly concentrated actions,” said LPG-MA Rep. Arnel Ty, one of bill’s sponsors.

Representatives Alfredo Marañon III, Kaka Bag-ao, Janette Garin, Jorge Banal, Maria Isabelle Climaco, Imelda Marcos, Lani Mercado-Revilla, Florencio Flores Jr., Nancy Catamco, Walden Bello, Angelo Palmones, Sharon Garin and Jun Omar Ebdane are the bill’s other sponsors.

Sen. Miriam Santiago has a counterpart measure, Senate Bill 3072, in the upper house.

Meanwhile, Ty does not see any need for President Aquino himself to voluntarily take an HIV test to help dispel the stigma associated with testing, as proposed by a national alliance of gay groups.

“Offhand, our showbiz celebrities might do a much better job not only at encouraging voluntary HIV-testing by young sexually active Filipinos and other at-risk groups, but also in raising public awareness of the ailment and prevention,” Ty said.

“In fact, in the United States, hundreds of celebrities there have been actively supporting AIDS awareness, and they are having a tremendous positive impact,” he pointed out.

Ty said HB 6751 also reinforces the rights and freedoms of HIV-positive Filipinos, especially against discrimination.

“The measure will go a long way in improving the living conditions of HIV-positive people through greater access to treatment, care and support,” Ty said.

The bill also sets tougher penalties for entities and individuals who discriminate against HIV-positive people as well as those who violate their rights to confidentiality.

A total of 2,761 new HIV infections were discovered nationwide from January to October this year, up 48 percent versus 1,869 cases spotted in the same 10-month period in 2011.

The Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry, which began passive surveillance in 1984, now lists an aggregate of 11,125 cases, of which 60 percent, or 6,701 infections, were detected from 2010 onward.

The PNAC has warned that up to 46,000 Filipinos could be diagnosed with HIV by 2015.

At the rate new cases are being uncovered, the Philippine government could be spending up to P1 billion annually by 2015, just to procure the anti-retroviral drugs for Filipinos living with HIV, according to Dr. Edsel Salvana, a specialist in infectious disease medicine.

The Philippines is one of only seven countries in the world struggling to cope with rapidly increasing new HIV infections.

While the spread of HIV has slowed in many parts of the world, it has been growing at an alarming rate in the Philippines, Armenia, Bangladesh, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, according to the World Health Organization.

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