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Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Opinion -

IWAS read­ing on my news feed when I came across the state­ment of health ac­tivists against the PDEA agents who an­nounced in a press con­fer­ence, that one of their ap­pre­hended sus­pect was HIV pos­i­tive. On Tues­day this week, the Philip­pine Drug En­force­ment Agency (PDEA) Con­trol Act of 1998 or Repub­lic Act 8504, which specif­i­cally up­holds the con­fi­den­tial­ity of the PLHIV, ex­cept in spe­cific med­i­cal sit­u­a­tions and if sub­ject to a sub­poena from a court. Vi­o­la­tion of con­fi­den­tial­ity is pe­nal­ized by from six months to for years in prison as well as fines.

Health and hu­man rights ad­vo­cates are de­mand­ing for stiffer rules on con­fi­den­tial­ity to pro­tect the pri­vacy of the HIV pos­i­tive. For over 30 years, the HIV and Aids pan­demic killed more than 30 mil­lion peo­ple. Treat­ments are avail­able but the stigma per­sists, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to get them­selves tested and for the com­mu­nity to ac­cept those who are liv­ing with HIV and Aids.

The Depart­ment of Health (DOH) cited the lat­est data from the UNAids Re­port on global HIV epi­demic states which iden­ti­fied the Philip­pines as hav­ing the “fastest grow­ing” HIV epi­demic in Asia Pa­cific. HIV cases in the coun­try more than dou­bled from 4,300 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2016.

One could ar­gue that there was lack of pru­dence but it sim­ply showed the need to fur­ther carry on with health ad­vo­cacy and ed­u­ca­tion. While an HIV di­ag­no­sis is not a death sen­tence as it was con­sid­ered be­fore, there still ex­ist the col­lec­tive in­abil­ity to un­der­stand HIV and Aids to be able to re­move the stigma.

This ut­ter lack of in­for­ma­tion makes it im­pos­si­ble for in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­nity to act re­spon­si­bly in not only pre­vent­ing in­fec­tion, but also in up­hold­ing the rights of those who are liv­ing with HIV.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion and stigma re­mains to be a stum­bling block in de­feat­ing HIV and Aids. While re­source al­lo­ca­tion has shifted on other health pro­grams, lay­ing down the frame­work in re­spond­ing to the pan­demic, in­clud­ing ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic on HIV and Aids are side­lined.

Greater in­vest­ment on pub­lic health ed­u­ca­tion has to be sup­ported. Years ago, while work­ing on a health com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­gram, we were sur­prised that Davao City was dropped as one of the pri­or­ity ar­eas for HIV and Aids pro­gram. Dur­ing that time, Davao City was al­ready in the top three cities with high in­ci­dence on HIV and Aids.

How to re­duce the vul­ner­a­bil­ity to HIV? Sex­ual be­hav­ior, iden­tity and gen­der are com­plex and need to be un­der­stood. Ac­cess to tests and treat­ments will make it pos­si­ble to not only pro­long the life of some­one in­fected with HIV, but also help re­duce the like­li­hood that the per­son will in­fect his or her part­ners.

As this in­ci­dent show, gov­ern­ment part­ners and ser­vice providers need to be con­tin­u­ally ed­u­cated on han­dling cases of PLHIVs. Proven be­hav­ior change in­ter­ven­tions and pre­ven­tion tech­nolo­gies will only pro­duce pos­i­tive im­pact if they take place in set­tings with so­cial jus­tice and hu­man rights, free of stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

(Email com­ments to roledan@gmail.com)

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