|World AIDS Celebration|
|Monday, 07 February 2011 13:30|
Hon. EDCEL C. LAGMAN
Representative of the 1st District of Albay
PLCPD Chairperson for the House of Representatives and
House Minority Leader
House of Representatives, December 6, 2010
I am not going to give you any more data than what has already been presented by the United Nations Resident Coordinator herself. However, I would like to emphasize some aspects that astound me personally.
The United Nations’ report last December 1 should be a veritable wellspring of hope. Globally, the new number of reported cases of HIV infections and deaths has dropped by nearly 20 percent.
It is therefore both ironic and tragic that the Philippines’ trajectory is towards the other direction. Our country’s HIV/AIDS statistics have increased by 30 percent!
In October this year, 104 new cases of HIV Ab sero-positive were added to the ever growing list, reaching the total of 1,035 from January to October alone. Of this, 15 were classified as AIDS.
In 2000, there was an average of one new case every three days. Last year, that figure went up to two new cases each day. This year, the cases have gone up to four every single day. These figures are saying something. One new case of HIV a day is worrisome enough. Four is definitely alarming. It is not a question of what we are doing to prevent the spread of the disease but what we are not doing to prevent its proliferation.
When the first case of HIV in the Philippines was reported in January 1984 up to September of last year, the total number cases of HIV Ab sero-positive has reached 7,490. Of this, only 5,729 were reported to the HIV and AIDS Registry. Most of the victims are male and in the prime of their lives at 25-34 years, and forty six percent come from the National Capital Region. Three hundred and eighteen were reported to have already died of AIDS or its complications.
Indeed, HIV and AIDS are components of reproductive health but they cannot be treated as secondary issues. As in all the other components of RH, this should be dealt with utmost attention and care, and with precise steps. Just like maternal and infant death and morbidity, the HIV/AIDS problem in the Philippines is a public health concern.
In 1998, the Congress enacted RA 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act to respond to the spread of the disease in the country. Twelve years have passed and we are confronted with a bigger problem – our disturbing data on HIV/AIDS is clearly leaning towards a possible epidemic. With this development, we must realize the urgent need to review the effectiveness of this law and to reverse the growing number of infections in the country.
The establishment of the Philippine National AIDS Council nearly two decades ago has clearly defined what actions to take and which agencies must take the lead in ensuring universal access of infected persons to basic health care services; promoting and protecting the fundamental human rights of HIV/AIDS patients; educating the public regarding this deadly disease; and preventing the multiplication of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The creation of several mechanisms such as the establishment of the HIV Surveillance System, development of modules and protocols incorporated in the school and DFA curricula and capacitating health care providers now seem inadequate with the rate of increase in HIV/AIDS infection our country is experiencing.
The current available date may be frightening but this does not have to mean that contracting the disease is inevitable. Relevant information, proper education and a necessary amount of discipline and discretion are the basic keys.
Experience in other countries has proven that once the cases begin to rise to the level of epidemic proportions, it will be very hard to contain. Although recent figures may indicate a grim future for the Philippines, Filipinos have the enviable reputation of being both resilient and determined when we set our hearts and minds to accomplishing something. HIV/AIDS may be a deadly disease but it is not unconquerable.
What we must constantly keep in mind is that although sufficient funding is indispensable for the success of our anti-HIV/AIDS program, the program itself must certainly be anchored on value-based techniques that will help curb this deadly disease by changing behavior.
We cannot win the battle against HIV/AIDS if we fail to particularly address and ultimately alleviate the discrimination and stigma directed towards people living with the disease and vulnerable groups like sex workers and members of the gay community.
It is precisely stigma and discrimination that generate fears and myths and misconceptions on HIV/AIDS and may eventually lead to misinformation and attitudes of denial. The shame felt and prejudice experienced by victims may also hinder their access to basic information and essential prevention and treatment services. Stigma and discrimination therefore may interrupt or even put out of joint fundamental principles in public health services, like early diagnosis and timely and appropriate remedies and treatment.
Legislators and legislation are central players in the fight against the spread of the disease and in combating the stigma and discrimination that often go hand in hand with HIV/AIDS. We must all do our share in battling this fatal and debilitating illness through responsive and responsible public policies.
Too much is at stake for us not to take concrete action to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, a disease that does not only end lives but strips many of its victims of their dignity and leaves in its wake much despair, disability and death.
Thank you very much and I hope that this activity will inspire us to strengthen our efforts in halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS in our country.