WHO Calls On Philippines gov’t to Act on HIV Epidemic

WHO Calls On Philippines gov’t to Act on HIV Epidemic

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While the government tries to suppress the spread of disease in the country, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged Philippine authorities to double its efforts as the country now has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world.

“We’re seeing a response happening now, but it needs to be bigger,” WHO Representative in the Philippines Dr. Julie Hall said in an interview with Rappler.

“The rates have taken off, the doubling of cases. The way in which we see more and more cases, the speed with which this is now growing, is faster than what we’ve seen in other countries in the world,” Hall said.

In March alone, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded 667 new cases, bringing the total to 24,376 cumulative cases since 1984.

On a daily basis, the record has risen from 17 in 2014 to 21 in 2015. From this, Hall said “there probably isn’t enough action right now.”

“The window of opportunity is fairly small and there’s a few years, really, where intensive work needs to be done to bring this outbreak into control. Otherwise, it simply gets bigger and bigger, more and more costly, more and more difficult to bring it under control,” she added.

The DOH’s initiative to start up annual National HIV Week, Hall said, should be conducted two to three times a year considering that the testing rates are still currently very low.

The programs should be supported with more funding for the availability of the free treatment, counseling and condoms, the WHO rep said.

This year, the DOH’s National HIV/STI Prevention Program has a budget of about P500 million wherein 60 percent will go to the treatment of the patients.

Hall said that through the supposed implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, schools must begin giving sex education to young people before the age when they start exploring sexually.

Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) Executive Director Romeo Dongeto believes that minors—comprising 25 percent of the infected patients—should be granted access to HIV testing.

Dongeto cited a Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study saying that 23 percent of Filipino youth had engaged in sexual activities before they reach the age of 18. Around 80 percent of youth reportedly did not use protection during their first sexual experience.

“To address this, we need a comprehensive program for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. This should include intensified education campaigns and giving young people access to reproductive health products and services, including HIV testing and counseling,” he said.

The PLCPD Executive Director revealed that there are barriers for children aged 15 to 17 years to access HIV testing according to the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 (Republic Act No. 8504), which requires minors to secure parental consent before taking the test.

This act, however, differs from what the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child mandates: countries should acknowledge that children 15-17 years of age can freely decide based on their needs.

Dongeto said his bloc has been calling for the amendment of the outdated RA 8504.

“Among the amendments we seek is the removal of the parental consent requirement for minors when seeking HIV-related services,” he said. “We are confident that the provision of standard confidential pre- and post-test counseling by competent professionals will ensure that minors will be well-informed on their rights and options, specifically when it come to HIV-related services.” (With reports from Rappler.com and Inquirer.net)

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