December 1, 2016
Every year on this day, since 1988, the symbolic Red Ribbon binds together advocates across the globe to remember the lives lost to AIDS, as well as to renew the commitment to fight the spread of HIV. How this social scourge is most devastating among individuals at their prime holds true here in the Philippines, as 62% of all new cases are persons aged 15 to 24 years old. Extending the age coverage to include 15- to 30 year-old’s makes the figure rise to an alarming 85% of the infections. The National Youth Commission even declares – “The HIV epidemic in our country has a new face and it is the face of a young person.”
The last two decades have seen an improvement in the action on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, both in intensity and extent. A total of 18.2 million persons living with HIV (PLHIVs) have access to antiretroviral therapy, and US$ 19 billion in funds have been mobilized for response to HIV and AIDS in low- and middle-income countries (UNAIDS). Even with this investment, many young PLHIVs have their health threatened, and their opportunities for development, compromised. There is the risk of lost productivity due to poor physical and mental well-being; also, due to discriminatory policies restricting their employability and mobility. Less opportunities for young people to be active contributors to the economy may hamper development in a larger scale.
In the Philippines, there exist several challenges to HIV response. We have an outdated AIDS Prevention and Control Act, which restricts access of minors to HIV testing, and consequently, treatment services. This law, once hailed as model legislation across the world—no longer responds to the country’s needs. There is a need for a comprehensive law that will cover HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) has, among its priority legislative agenda for the 17th Congress, policy measures geared at addressing the “fast and furious” rise of new HIV infections. For one, PLCPD is pushing for reforms to the AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, including easing the access of minors to HIV testing services. The Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination, which aims to protect Filipinos from discrimination on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) and HIV status (among others) has among its champions, PLCPD members Reps. Geraldine Roman, Tom Villarin, and Kaka Bag-ao, as well as PLCPD Chairperson for the Senate Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
In commemoration of World AIDS Day 2016, PLCPD, an organization which envisions a life of dignity for Filipinos, joins the call for gender-sensitive, human rights-based approach to HIV response.