Press Release
March 15, 2017

Sponsorship Speech of Senator Risa Hontiveros on Committee Report No. 52 (HIV AIDS Amendments Law)

Maayong Hapon!

This afternoon, I'd like to bring to the attention of the highest policy-making body in this country, a public health tragedy unfolding among Filipino youth and other vulnerable groups, rendered helpless by lack of access to correct information and publicly-funded services, silenced by stigma and shame.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues, the Filipino youth has become the unwilling target of an old epidemic. Amidst the glam and glitter of their snapchat filters and artsy Instagram feeds, they also experience taking to social media goodbyes and grief for the passing of their friend or a friend of their friends succumbing to a treatable medical condition. These posts on Facebook has become so common, the pattern so obvious: the deceased, usually male in his 20s or 30s, openly or secretly gay, the cause of death was "hard-core pneumonia or tuberculosis", infections which bewilderingly should not have led to death.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues, as of 2017, araw-araw may dalawampu't anim (27[JAL1] ) na mga Filipino ang nada-diagnose na HIV-positive. Noong taong 2000, isa kada tatlong araw ang naire-report na HIV-positive. Noong 2008, one case per day. 2010, apat, siyam noong 2012, 17 noong 2014.

Ngayon, 27 kada araw at ayon sa mga estimates, anim sa bawat sampung bagong HIV infections sa bansa ay mga kabataan na may eded na di tataas sa 24.

Based on the surveillance report released by the DOH, there were 9,264 new HIV/AIDS cases documented in 2016 and 844 new HIV/AIDS cases documented in January of 2017 alone. Twenty-two of the cases reported in 2016 are aged 15 years old and below.

The National Youth Commission, alarmed by this increasing trend, has called it a "Youth Epidemic." Gone too soon. This is the usual comment from their friends when these young ones inexplicably die and their eulogies are done online.

What breaks my heart, Mr. President, my dear colleagues, is that--this is not the 80s anymore. HIV prevention and treatment strategies can already be designed to reverse HIV incidence and end the epidemic. Pharmacological advances in HIV treatment have transformed HIV into a manageable condition. There are also new HIV prevention approaches, ones that combine biomedical interventions and community-led and human rights-based strategies. These have informed new targets, one of our Sustainable Development Goals is to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

No one has to die of opportunistic infections. The global trend in HIV epidemic is in fact declining. But the Philippines, our dear Philippines, is one of the only nine countries in the world that registered more than 25% increase in HIV incidence.

Moreover, the rapid increase in the last six years reflects an alarming landscape: the epidemic is expanding in urban centers, affecting disproportionately populations and communities that are marginalized and vulnerable: young Filipinos; gay and bisexual men; transgender people; and people who use drugs.

Despite of all this, coverage of HIV testing remains low: only about 1 out of 2 Filipinos living with HIV is aware of their HIV status. A third of those infected with HIV have no access to lifesaving treatment. Despite the fact that a vast majority of HIV new cases have been contracted through sexual transmission, evidence-based interventions to promote safer sex practices have been minimal.

Based on the estimates of the Department of Health, if no improvement is done in the HIV response, the number of Filipinos living with HIV will reach around 160,000 by 2022 and exceed half a million by 2030[JAL2] . Needless to say, this will require a bigger public health expenditure, both to guarantee access to HIV treatment and to prevent new infections. If unaddressed, the HIV epidemic will pose a serious challenge to efforts to scale up universal healthcare in the country, and will prove to be catastrophic to many marginalized Filipinos.

For this year alone, Mr. President, the DOH projects--more than 55,000 Filipinos will have HIV.

Thus, this emergency situation needs an emergency response. Senate Bill No.1390 or the "Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act", the bill this humble representation, together with the Chairperson of Health, Senator JV Ejercito, is sponsoring today, seeks to repeal RA8504 to introduce a legal framework that incorporates lessons from the current HIV response and introduces newer evidence-based, human rights-informed, and gender transformative strategies to prevent and treat the epidemic. It aims to:

  • Reform the Philippine National AIDS Council as the main governance platform for the HIV response to guarantee efficiency and alignment with evidence-based approaches to address the HIV epidemic;

  • Establish a national HIV program, with clear mechanisms for operationalization and implementation at the local level;

  • Introduce evidence-based, human rights-informed, and gender transformative HIV prevention and treatment approaches;

  • Improve access to HIV services, especially for key populations and vulnerable communities, and ensure social and financial risk protection for those who need to access these services;

  • Enhance anti-discrimination protection to promote the human rights of Filipinos living with HIV, key populations and vulnerable communities, and providers of HIV services;

  • Promote a more collaborative framework for the HIV response, especially to guarantee the meaningful participation and involvement of civil society, communities, and key populations; and

  • Guarantee sufficient investment for the HIV response.

Indeed, Mr. President, my dear colleagues, we need to reverse this epidemic and scale up our health services before HIV becomes a catastrophic public health threat. Every 53 minutes, one Filipino is reported to have HIV and I am afraid this data is still largely underreported. Mr. President, the time to be alarmed is now. The time to act is now. For the attainment of our Sustainable Development Goals. For the the Filipino youth, for the vulnerable and the marginalized, for those young people who need not die.

Maraming salamat and magandang hapon.

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