New AIDS Control Law looms

THE House of Representatives has passed on third and final a bill mandating highly potent new strategies to suppress the outbreak of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the country.

“We have very high hopes we will have a new AIDS Prevention and Control Law by mid-year at the latest,” said LPG-MA Rep. Arnel Ty, one of the authors of bill.

“The Senate has already scheduled a committee hearing on their counterpart bill, authored by Sen. Miriam Santiago, on Thursday, January 31,” Ty said.

House Bill (HB) 6751 seeks to overhaul the outmoded 1998 AIDS Prevention and Control Law.

The bill commands the multi-sectoral Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) to draw up a fresh six-year program with definite targets to reverse the average 45 percent annual increase in new HIV cases in the country since 2010.

HIV causes AIDS, or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The disease that devastates the human body’s immune system still does not have any known cure. However, anti-retroviral therapy can slow down the ailment.

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.

A total of 3,338 new HIV infections were diagnosed nationwide in 2012, up by 42 percent, or 989 cases, compared to the 2,349 detected in 2011, according to the National Epidemiology Center.

The new cases discovered last year (3,186 males, 152 females) were more than double the 1,591 cases reported in 2010.

Of the 3,338, the center said 94 percent (3,159) were infected through sexual contact; five percent (175) via contaminated needle-sharing among illicit drug users; and less than one percent (4) by mother-to-child transfer.

Of the 3,159 who acquired the virus on account of sexual encounters, 53 percent (1,687) were due to homosexual contact; 31 percent (992) owing to bisexual contact; and 15 percent (480) as a result of heterosexual contact.

Last year’s new cases included 342 overseas Filipino workers (301 males, 41 females).

As of Dec. 31, 2012, the Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry, which began passive surveillance of the disease in 1984, listed an aggregate of 11,702 cases, of which 62 percent, or 7,278 infections, were detected in the last 36 months.

Once enacted, Ty expressed confidence HB 6751 “will go a long way in improving the living conditions of HIV-positive people through greater access to treatment, care and support.”

“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,” he pointed out.

Besides Ty, the bill’s other authors are 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.

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

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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