Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AIDS advisory body to lobby for stronger law

Business World, Philippines

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH)-Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) is lobbying for a new HIV/AIDS prevention bill that will advocate higher budget for PNAC and anti-HIV programs of its 17 member agencies.

PNAC will be providing inputs for the measure, which will be sponsored upon resumption of Congress, said Dr. Ferchito L. Avelino, PNAC secretariat executive director.

"It will be faster to pass a new bill than to make amendments to the old law," he told BusinessWorld in a phone interview yesterday.

He added the bill will be "an opportunity to enrich the programs against HIV/AIDS (human immunovirus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome), given the new trend in the epidemic."

According to the Philippine HIV/AIDS Registry, HIV infections are on the rise, with five new HIV cases per day.

In the first 10 months of 2010, there were 1,305 new HIV infections compared with 835 for the whole of 2009. If the trend continues, there will be an estimated 46,000 cases by 2015.

This is contrary to the country’s pledge in 2000, as part of its UN Millennium Goals, to halt and reverse the rate of infections by 2015. Moreover, apart from Bangladesh, the Philippines is the only other Asian nation reporting a rise in incidence rate.

Mr. Avelino said the new bill, which will supplant the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 (Republic Act 8504), will directly address HIV/AIDS with more "aggressive" provisions.

The original law emphasized public awareness campaigns, assuring basic health and social services for individuals with HIV, promoting universal precautions in practices and procedures that carry the risk of HIV transmission, eradicating conditions that aggravate the spread of the infection, and ensuring that the human rights and civil liberties of HIV/AIDS patients are not compromised.

Prominent features of the new bill, meanwhile, include specified funding of up to P20 million for the operations of PNAC and its member agencies.

"We have a budget, but not necessarily for the member agencies. In the new bill, it will specifically state that each member agency will get a portion of the budget.

"And although we’re entitled to P20 million, in the last five years we’ve only had a running budget of P9 million. We’re still lobbying for the P20 million," said Mr. Avelino.

He was referring to the original PNAC budget of P20 million -- funded through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) purportedly for additional antiretroviral drugs (ARV) in 2005 -- which was reduced the following year to P9 million.

While admitting they will have to prove absorptive capacity of such a large sum, he maintained that the current budget is simply insufficient.

Apart from which, the new bill not only advocates HIV/AIDS education, particularly on preventive measures, it also seeks to provide a budget for condoms and other prophylactic devices and make these freely available to at-risk populations.

"It’s more aggressive. This is a controversial issue, but the Pope’s recent statement on condom-use [in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention and for ‘discordant couples’] has given a big boost to the campaign," he said.

It should be noted, however, that the Senate retained only P8 million for the procurement of condoms from the initial P880 million allocated for various contraceptives in the DoH budget.

Yet Mr. Avelino is optimistic that with help of legislators, the new bill will be filed upon the resumption of session, and favorably assessed.

He said Akbayan party-list Rep. Arlene "Kaka" J. Bag-ao will be sponsoring the bill in the House, and the PNAC will be approaching Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. in the hopes that he will sponsor a counterpart measure.

Sought for comment, Ms. Bag-ao’s camp said they "offer support for the HIV/AIDS prevention advocacy" but would neither confirm nor deny her sponsorship of any new bill.

Ms. Bag-ao is the principal author of the Reproductive Health Bill, of which one out of 10 components pertains to HIV/AIDS prevention.

"We continue to lobby for the RH Bill, but much of it has become too politicized and we feel that this new bill will have an easier passage," said Mr. Avelino.

PNAC was created in 1992 by Executive Order 39 as an advisory body to the office of the President on all matters related to the disease.

It was reconstituted under Republic Act 8504 as the central advisory, planning and policy making body on the prevention and control of HIV and AIDS in the country.

It acts as a national coordinating body composed of 26 members from the government, civil society and organizations of people living with HIV. -- Johanna Paola D. Poblete

No comments: