As part of the World AIDS Day on December 1, Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday underwent a voluntary HIV testing at the Senate. She said the test aimed to lift the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS and show the public that there is nothing to fear, or to be ashamed of, in accessing these crucial preventive practices.
“It’s a test that can spell life or death," Hontiveros said, citing data from various agencies on the rising epidemic of the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, an infection that can lead to the breakdown of the body’s immune system through Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Hontiveros, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, lamented the stigma surrounding HIV and HIV testing. “We need to break down this barrier that prevents Filipinos from getting tested, especially that 1 in 2 persons living with HIV is not diagnosed," Hontiveros said.
The Senator said, if not curbed, there will be 133,000 people living with HIV in the Philippines by 2022. 80% of new infections come from men having sex with men. The median age of those diagnosed with HIV is below 35 years old.
"Young people are at the losing end of the fight against HIV”, lamented Hontiveros, citing some of adolescents' "risky behavior", which could lead to the spread of the virus.
"We need information that leads to action. Behavioral change comes from people who are well-informed. As long as we discuss HIV and the need to be tested in hushed voices, more people are risking their lives," Hontiveros explained.
The Senator also urged the government to provide people access to free HIV tests and options to protect themselves from unsafe sex. "Early diagnosis leads to early treatment and saves lives. Prevention, early detection and treatment must be made available by the government. No one deserves a death sentence," said Hontiveros.
According to Department of Health (DoH), there are 25 new cases of HIV infection in the Philippines daily. Hontiveros said that the increase on the rate of HIV incidence in the country is alarming as global HIV incidence is decreasing.
The Senator maintained that new developments in prevention and treatment are available and must be maximized by the government. “A scientific, human-rights based, and gender-sensitive national policy is needed in order to address this rising epidemic”, Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros early this year filed Senate Bill No. 376 or the Philippine HIV-AIDS Policy ACT to update the government’s response framework. Her bill seeks seeks a comprehensive, inclusive and localized response towards HIV-AIDS. If passed, it will repeal Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine HIV AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.
*Photo c/o Joseph Vidal, Senate PPRIB