Tomorrow, 1 December, we will commemorate World AIDS Day. Since 1988, World AIDS Day is observed to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS and to remember those who have died of the disease.
The Philippines has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia and the Pacific region. It is for this reason that when I was a member of Congress, I authored House Bill 6617, that later became Republic Act 11166, after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed it into law in December 2018.
The passage of RA 11166, or An Act Strengthening the Philippine Comprehensive Policy on HIV and AIDS Prevention Treatment, Care and Support, serves to strengthen the Universal Coverage Act — which I also authored in the Lower House — given that Universal Health Care covers preventive health services.
RA 11166, also known as the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act, is anchored on respecting, protecting and promoting human rights as the cornerstone of the country’s response to the HIV/AIDS situation. It also calls for inclusion and participation of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) in eliminating the virus, ensuring the confidentiality and noncompulsory nature of HIV testing.
The law also guarantees the delivery of non-discriminatory HIV and AIDS services by the government, and ensures that the civil, political, economic and social rights of PLHIV are protected.
Apart from preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, the bill that I co-authored gives punishment to those who will discriminate against a PLHIV, and for those who will publicize the state of a person with AIDS.
In our yearly commemoration of World AIDS Day, we must not only help end the stigma of HIV/AIDS, but we must also work together to increase the capacity of our country for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks such as HIV/AIDS.
In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, individuals with comorbidities like HIV/AIDS put them at higher risk of getting infected. That is why it is important that those living with HIV continue to get the treatment and medicines that they need especially during this time of the pandemic.
As one of the principal authors of the House version of the bill, I am happy that we are finally seeing concrete steps taken by the government to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Through proper education and information dissemination, I am one of those who are hoping that the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS will finally be removed in our society.
Like Covid-19, those who have been afflicted with the disease are not our enemy — the virus is. So, let us not discriminate; rather, let us all continue to show our support to people living with HIV by helping raise awareness to help in the fight against HIV and AIDS.