Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago filed the Philippine Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Policy and Plan Act of 2011 in recognition of World AIDS Day.
Senate Bill No. 3072 seeks to establish a National HIV and AIDS Plan that will create a road map on HIV and AIDS with clear strategies, targets, framework, and funding. The bill also hopes to correct the inadequacies of the existing law in addressing the HIV epidemic.
“The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act (Republic Act No.8504), enacted in 1998, was once hailed as a model legislation, but the spread of HIV is outpacing the 13-year old law. The preventive interventions that it prescribes are no longer fully aligned with what years of experience and evidence on HIV prevention recommend,” Santiago said.
The senator also said that the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act lacks enabling mechanisms to enforce its human rights provisions. According to her, the law also failed to provide clarity on the continuing confusion around the structure governing the country’s HIV response.
“The response to the epidemic has been marked with complacency, lack of political leadership, and reckless disregard of evidence-informed strategies and approaches that could prevent the spread of the virus,” Santiago said.
Santiago also lamented the bureaucratic confusion and uneven political commitments plaguing the governance structure designated to spearhead the HIV response.
“Every five years, the country adopts an HIV and AIDS Medium-Term Plan, a national roadmap on HIV and AIDS, but the implementation of this strategic plan is impeded by recalcitrant government agencies and lack of support from the national government,” the senator said.
According to Santiago, the HIV and AIDS legal framework now conflicts with laws recently enacted, thus restricting actions that are crucial to halt the spread of the epidemic.
The Philippines was previously a “low and slow” country, with HIV incidence in the Philippines recorded at one new infection per day. But recent reports show the Philippines is recording seven new infections a day, making it one of the only seven countries worldwide where HIV infection continues to rise.
“Domestic and international health experts have not been remiss in warning the country that it has all the necessary ingredients for an HIV epidemic. Condom use is low among Filipinos. Among key populations, sexually transmitted infections and multiple sexual patnerships are common,” the senator said.
Santiago warned the government that it must not take false comfort from the fact that the HIV epidemic has not reached the general population. According to her, various indicators show that if nothing is done immediately, it would just be a matter of time before it does.
Government epidemiologists have warned that by 2015, the total number of HIV cases in the Philippines could reach 45,000 from the reported 7,000 cases in 2011.
Under the proposed bill, evidence-informed, gender sensitive, age-appropriate, and human rights-based preventive measures will be introduced, especially among key populations and vulnerable communities. Key populations and vulnerable communities include men in relationship with men, drug users, and sex workers.
Among the bill’s objective is to promote HIV and AIDS education; develop programs to provide economic support to persons living with HIV; and provide accessible treatment, management of infections, and health services related to sexually transmitted infections. The bill also aims to mobilize communities of persons living with HIV for public awareness and stigma reduction activities. #