House moves to strengthen policy to curb spread of HIV/AIDS

The House committee on health chaired by Rep. Angelina Tan (4th District, Quezon) has approved a substitute bill seeking to strengthen the country's policy to prevent the growing prevalence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) cases.

In a recent hearing, Rep. Pablo Ortega (1st District, La Union) presented the report of the technical working group headed by Rep. Jose Enrique Garcia III (2nd District, Bataan) on the consolidation of several bills which seek to strengthen the comprehensive policy on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support.

The unnumbered substitute bill entitled Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act declares it a State policy that HIV and AIDS are public health concerns that have wide-ranging social, political, and economic repercussions. Responding to the HIV and AIDS epidemic is therefore imbued with political interest.

It further declares that the State shall uphold, respect, protect, fulfill, and promote human rights and dignity as the cornerstone of an effective response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

The State shall likewise guarantee the confidentiality, anonymity and voluntary nature of HIV testing; ensure the provision of non-discriminatory HIV and AIDS services; and, develop redress mechanisms for persons living with HIV (PLHIV) to safeguard their civil, political, economic and social rights.

Furthermore, the State shall recognize the vital role of affected individuals in propagating correct information and learning messages about HIV and AIDS and shall utilize their experience to educate the public about the disease.

Thus, the State shall establish policies and programs to prevent the spread of HIV and deliver treatment, care, and support services to Filipinos living with HIV in accordance with evidence-based strategies and approaches that uphold the principles of human rights and gender responsiveness age-appropriateness, including meaningful participation of communities affected by the epidemic.

The State shall adopt a multi-sectoral approach in responding to the HIV epidemic by ensuring that the whole of government, civil society organizations, and persons living with HIV are at the center of the process.

The State shall ensure access to HIV and AIDS-related services by eliminating the climate of stigma and discrimination that surrounds the epidemic and the people directly affected by it.

Moreover, the State shall positively address and seek to eradicate conditions that aggravate the spread of HIV infection.

As defined under the bill, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome refers to a health condition where there is a deficiency of the immune system that stems from infection with HIV, making an individual susceptible to opportunistic infections.

On the other hand, Human Immunodeficiency Virus refers to the virus, of the type called retrovirus, which infects cells of the human immune system -- mainly CD4 positive T cells and macrophages, key components of the cellular immune system � and destroys or impairs the cells' function. Infection with HIV results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system, leading to immune deficiency.

The bill also seeks to strengthen the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) as the central policy making, planning, coordinating and advisory body of the Philippine National HIV/AIDS program.

As provided under the bill, the PNAC or Council, established under Republic Act (RA) 8504 otherwise known as the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, shall be reconstituted and streamlined to ensure the implementation of the country's response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

The PNAC shall be an independent agency attached to the Department of Health (DOH).

Among the functions of the PNAC are: to develop the National HIV and AIDS Plan or the AIDS Medium Term Plan (AMTP) in collaboration with relevant government agencies, civil service organizations (CSOs), PLHIV community and other stakeholders; ensure the operationalization and implementation of AMTP; and strengthen the collaboration between government agencies and CSOs involved in the implementation of the national HIV and AIDS program, including the delivery of HIV and AIDS-related services as well as advocate for policy reforms to Congress and other government agencies to strengthen the country's response to the epidemic, among others.

Discriminatory acts and practices prohibited under the proposal include discrimination in the workplace and in learning institutions; restrictions on travel and habitation, restrictions on shelter; inhibition from public services; exclusion from credit and insurance services; discrimination in hospitals and health institutions; denial of burial services; and act of bullying against an individual based on actual or perceived or suspected HIV status.

Any person, natural or juridical, who shall violate any of the said discriminatory acts and prohibited practices, upon conviction, shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of six years to five years and/or a fine of P50,000 to P500,000 at the discretion of the court, and without prejudice to the imposition of administrative sanctions such as fines, suspension or revocation of business permit, business license or accreditation, and professional license.

Misinformation on HIV and AIDS, which includes false and misleading advertising ad claims in any form of media, including traditional media, internet and social platforms, and mobile applications, or the promotional marketing of drugs, devices, agents or procedures without prior approval from the DOH through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and without the requisite medical and scientific basis, including markings and indications in drugs and devices or agents, claiming to be a cure or a fail-safe prophylactic for HIV infection, shall be prohibited.

Any person who commits the said prohibited act shall, upon conviction, suffer the penalty of six years and one day to 12 years, without prejudice to the imposition of fines and administrative sanctions, such as suspension or revocation of professional or business license.

Any person who knowingly or negligently causes another to get infected with HIV in the course of the practice of profession through unsafe and unsanitary practice and procedure shall, upon conviction, suffer the penalty of imprisonment of six years to 12 years without prejudice to the imposition of fines and administrative sanctions such as suspension or revocation of professional license.

Any person, natural or juridical, who denies life insurance coverage of any person living with HIV in violation of Section 39 of the Act, upon conviction, suffer the penalty of imprisonment from six months to five years and/or a fine of P50,000 to P500,000 at the discretion of the court, and without prejudice to the imposition of administrative sanctions such as fines, suspension or revocation of business permit, business license or accreditation, and professional license.

Section 39 of the proposed Act provides that the PhilHealth shall develop an insurance package for persons living with HIV that shall include coverage for in-patient and out-patient medical and diagnostic services, including medication and treatment. The PhilHealth shall enforce confidentiality in the provision of these packages to persons living with HIV.

No person living with HIV shall be denied or deprived of private health and life insurance coverage on the basis of the person's HIV status, following the company's reasonable underwriting policies. Furthermore, no person shall be denied of his life insurance claims if he dies of HIV or AIDS under a valid and subsisting life insurance policy.

The Insurance Commission (IC) shall implement this provision and shall develop the necessary policies to ensure compliance.

The bill substituted House Bills 53, 253, 538, 581 663, 1106, 1804, 1973, 2023, 2511, 2674, 3146, 3161, 3536, 3978, 4276 and 5145, and seeks to repeal Republic Act No. 8504.

Authors of the bill include Reps. Kaka Bag-ao (Lone District, Dinagat Islands), Harry Roque Jr. (Party-list, KABAYAN), Victor Yap (2nd District, Tarlac), Deputy Speakers Pia Cayetano and Sharon Garin (Party-list, AAMBIS OWA),Tan, Reps. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. (Lone District, Ifugao), Sandra Eriguel (2nd District, La Union), Estrellita Suansing (1st District, Nueva Ecija), Horacio Suansing Jr. (2nd District, Sultan Kudarat), Imelda Marcos (2nd District, Ilocos Norte), Bellaflor Angara-Castillo (Lone District, Aurora), Gary Alejano (Party-list, MAGDALO), Gus Tambunting (2nd District, ParaAaque City), Tom Villarin (Party-list, AKBAYAN), Ron Salo (Party-list, KABAYAN), and Raymund Democrito Mendoza (Party-list, TUCP).

Source: House of Representatives

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