HIV cases up 11% – lawmaker

Published by rudy Date posted on May 29, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – A total of 171 new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases were reported in April, up by 11 percent from the 154 posted in the same month last year, a party-list lawmaker said.

The reported surge in HIV cases came amid raging debate over the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, which seeks to push the use of modern contraceptives including condoms, which also offer protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

LPG/MA party-list Rep. Arnel Ty said the fresh cases brought to 654 the cumulative number of new HIV infections detected this year, and put the total at 6,669 in the National HIV and AIDS Registry.

Of the 171 new cases discovered in April, Ty said 165 were males and six were females. He said the new cases include 11 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) – all males.

Ty has been pushing for a congressional review of the 13-year-old AIDS Prevention and Control Law to find new ways to reinforce the fight against the disease.

HIV causes AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. There is no known cure for the disease, which destroys the immune system. However, some treatments can slow the spread of the disease.

“Many HIV cases are undiagnosed simply because national surveillance of the disease is passive,” Ty said.

He said monitoring of the disease remains “inactive” mainly because the law protects sufferers from potential abuse and discrimination, and categorically forbids compulsory HIV-testing.

“Recruiters, businesses and schools, for instance, are barred from requiring HIV-testing as a condition of employment or admission, and rightly so,” he said.

Congress should determine whether existing policies and countermeasures are sufficient to suppress the HIV epidemic and alleviate the conditions of the growing number of Filipinos living with the disease, Ty said.

The Philippine National AIDS Council previously warned the country’s diagnosed HIV cases alone could hit 46,000 by 2015, unless effective strategies are put in place to check the spread of the disease.

Ty said 97 percent of all new HIV cases spotted this year resulted from unprotected sexual contact.

Ty also welcomed the United Nations Development Program’s plan to launch a comprehensive HIV prevention campaign for OFWs and other high-risk groups.

The UN resident coordinator, Jacqueline Badcock, bared the campaign last week at the 28th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Exposed to foreign cultures that tend to abet casual sex, OFWs comprised 24 percent or 1,596 of all cases in the National HIV and AIDS Registry as of April 30, Ty said.

‘Slight’ amendment

For Dr. Gerard Belimac, DOH program manager for the National AIDS/Sexually Transmitted Infection Prevention and Control Program, only a “slight” amendment to the existing AIDS prevention law is needed.

He told The STAR in a phone interview that any amendment to the law should tackle testing procedures for individuals below 18 years old.

“Under the law, the parent’s consent is needed before a child or those below 18 years old can be tested (for HIV/AIDS). There were instances in the past where 16- or 17-year-olds wanted to be tested because they knew they have had (risky behavior) but they did not want to tell their parents,” he said.

“But in general, I think we have good provisions in the law,” he said.

Belimac also said the rising number of HIV cases in the country could also be attributed to intensified information campaign that had encouraged those engaged in risky behavior to come forward and be tested. Furthermore, more testing centers have been set up.

Palliative care

Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Arroyo is seeking the immediate approval of a bill that seeks to institutionalize the provision of palliative care and end-of-life service to all patients with life-threatening illnesses.

Arroyo, in filing House Bill 4627 or “The Palliative and End-of-Life Care Act of 2011,” said people with cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other life-threatening illnesses are steadily increasing every year, leaving many families emotionally, spiritually and physically drained.

“Pain and anguish shatter the lives of families of loved ones afflicted with acute diseases that can no longer be cured medically. Most families just hope for a miracle as their loved ones hold on tightly to the precious thread of life,” Arroyo said.

The bill is still with the House committee on health chaired by Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Marañon III, who has expressed full support for the health reform measure.

Through HB 4627, Arroyo also proposed that provinces, cities and municipalities establish community-based hospice units and palliative care centers in every barangay in their respective jurisdictions.

The measure also calls for continuous collection of data – for research purposes – on palliative and end-of-life care.

The public, Arroyo said, must have access to good health data, including socioeconomic issues that affect patients and their loved ones.

Arroyo also proposed that immediate family members or relatives who actually look after or take care of a critically ill patient be entitled to an appropriate care leave benefit of 60 days a year with full pay, whether in the public or private sectors.

The measure also provided for the establishment of a “Palliative Care Trust Fund” exclusively for the financial support for indigent patients.

Arroyo said that in crafting HB 4627, he was inspired by Canadian senator Sharon Carstairs who pioneered an initiative to help make life more bearable for terminally ill patients.

“It is our hope that we can replicate her noble intentions in our country even if we have to start from modest beginnings and on tentative steps,” he said. –Paolo Romero and Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star)

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