MANILA - A Senate bill seeks to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS by making it a responsibility of people affected to disclose their condition at least to those they have sexual relations with.
"Any person who, after having been tested, is found to be infected with the HIV virus, is obliged to disclose this health condition to the spouse or sexual partner prior to engaging in penetrative sex or any potential exposure to HIV," reads one of the bill's provisions.
Senate Bill 3398, filed by Senate health and demography committee chair Pia Cayetano, aims to strengthen the Philippines' policy on HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment, and support for those affected by the disease by revising the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.
At a hearing on the measure on Thursday, Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag asked the committee if there should be penalties for people who fail to disclose their condition despite being aware of it.
"What we have are declarations that sexual partners are not known to have given information, and so many suffer in silence even though they know they got it from their partners," he said. "But we don't know if penalties can change this behavior."
COUNSELING BETTER THAN PENALTIES
Other resource persons, however, rejected the idea of penalizing people who do not disclose having HIV or AIDS to their partners.
Jonas Bagas, executive director of TLF-Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective Inc, said counseling programs for people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS must instead be strengthened.
"Rather than penalizing nondisclosure … we can instead make the climate more conducive for disclosure," he said.
Malu Marin of the Action for Health Initiative believes imposing penalties will not solve the problem.
She said it would only drive persons with HIV and AIDS underground, and reinforce the stigma they already face.
Although Tayag said disclosure will help fight the spread of the disease, he said he is more inclined to promote "disclosure at the proper time" among patients undergoing counseling rather than imposing penalties.
For Cayetano, the right to privacy of a patient with HIV or AIDS and the interests of public health must be balanced.
"It's important that we are very careful na hindi tayo makatapak sa karapatan ng mga tao, but at the same time, may sufficient na ammunition ang ating authorities to prevent the spread of diseases," she told reporters.
The senator is not in favor of penalties just to encourage patients to disclose their condition. Instead, she said the information campaign must be strengthened and improved.
"Kung tutuusin, kung mas maganda ang education process, that (disclosure) will be natural," Cayetano said.
According to Tayag, there are currently 25,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in the Philippines. He also cited a United Nations report ranking the Philippines 9th in the list of countries with increasing cases of the disease from 2001 to 2011.
The pending bill seeks to "remove all barriers to HIV and AIDS-related services by eliminating the climate of stigma that surrounds the epidemic and the people directly and indirectly affected by it."
It also aims to address and eradicate the conditions that cause the spread of the diseases, including poverty, gender inequality, marginalization, drug abuse, and ignorance.