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The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading the proposed “Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act” seeking to strengthen existing policies aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.

With a total of 188 votes in the affirmative, zero negative and zero abstentions, the chamber approved House Bill 6617, beefing up the Philippine Comprehensive Policy on HIV and AIDS, treatment, care and support for People Living with HIV and amend RA 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998”.

The decision was highly-praised on social media as netizens continuously campaigned on Twitter demanding #HIVPolicyNow as well as sharing their personal story about living with the disease.

“I’m Jay Santiago and I recently publicly came out as HIV+ (positive) after nearly a decade. We can end the spread of HIV if we eradicate ignorance and fear. We need better support systems and comprehensive policies for HIV care and education for all. #StoptheStigma! #HIVPolicyNow,” one tweet said.

“I am Vince Liban, Punong Babaylan of @upbabaylan, and I believe we need an updated and more responsive HIV/AIDS policy act in the country. Filipino PLHIV community have suffered long enough from stigma and discrimination. Pass the #HIVPolicyNow!” another tweet said.

Currently, the Philippines has the fastest recorded growth in the number of new HIV cases in the Asia-Pacific region. From 2010 to 2016, the cases have increased to 140 percent, according to the Department of Health. Figures from DOH also reveal that a total of 46,985 people have tested positive for HIV since the first case was recorded in the country in 1984. If measures are not strengthened, the number of people living with HIV in the country is expected to reach 142,000 by 2022 and 313,000 by 2030.

What does the bill’s passage mean, though, for all Filipinos whether they tested positive or not? Simply put, the country is coming closer to HIV and AIDS healthcare victory and its benefits.

The measure will reconstitute and streamline the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), which in return, will guarantee proper implementation of the country’s response to HIV/AIDS. It will also form a periodically updated six-year National Multi-Sectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan or an AIDS Medium-Term Plan (AMTP). The AMTP is set to detail the country’s targets and strategies to address HIV/AIDS, including prevention, treatment, care and support and other components of response to the epidemic. The operationalization program will also be detailed such as identifying implementing agencies of the government, budgetary requirement and investment plan.

The old law requires a PLHIV to disclose his/her status to his/her partner. The new one only “strongly encourages” it. If support is needed in health condition disclosure to a partner, a PLHIV may also seek help from health professionals, peer educators or social workers, provided of course that confidentiality is observed.

Through a prevention program, the bill will also allow education of the public on the dangers of HIV/AIDS. This will be participated or conducted in learning institutions, workplace settings, Filipinos, going abroad, tourists and transients, closed settings such as prisons, key affected populations and vulnerable communities.

The Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will be mandated to integrate basic and age-appropriate instruction on the causes, modes of transmission and effects of HIV infection. All public and private employees, including the military and the police, will be regularly provided with standardized basic information and instructions on HIV/AIDS, primarily on confidentiality and reduction of stigma and discrimination.

Prohibited discriminatory acts include restriction on travel and habitation and on shelter, inhibition from public services, exclusion from credit and insurance services, denial of burial services and acts of bullying. Discrimination in the workplace, learning institutions, hospitals and health institutions will also be banned.

The bill will also promote the positive role, rights and welfare of PLHIV, affected children, young people, their families and partners.

However, there’s much campaigning still needed. The fight continues in the Senate, where the bill is still pending second reading approval.

Photo from Manila Bulletin

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