By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
A group advocating children’s rights welcomed the signing of a law that would allow minors aged 15 years and above to get tested for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) even without the consent of their parents or guardians.
Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Alberto Muyot said the new “HIV and AIDS Policy Act” or Republic Act 1116 signed by President Duterte on December 20, 2018 amended Republic Act (RA) 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act that required all minors to get a consent from parents or guardians before they could undergo an HIV test.
Muyot, a former Undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) and a lawyer, said that the new law “recognizes the rights of children to health and protection from HIV.”
He explained that “giving minors aged 15 years old and above access to HIV testing was consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child where the government exercises responsibility to protect and assist families to nurture their children.”
The new law, Muyot noted, would allow minors aged 15-17 years old access to “undergo voluntary HIV testing without parental consent” – which was previously required under RA 8504.
He also welcomed provisions in the new HIV law that highlights participatory rights of children where their views are respected, “when adults are making decisions that affect children.”
Section 29 of the new HIV law allows any young person aged 15 and below, who is pregnant or engaged in high risk behavior, to access HIV testing and counseling with assistance from a licensed social worker or health worker.
When parents or guardians cannot be located or refuse to give consent, the minor aged 15 years old and below can still access HIV test and counseling through a consent from a social worker or health worker.
“To protect the best interest of the child, the assent of the minor shall also be required prior to the testing,” said RA 1116, Section 29.
Muyot said the new law was aligned with Article 5 of the UN convention that encourages parents to deal with rights issues “in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.”
The Philippines is one of the countries with the highest number of HIV cases in the world, with an average of 32 persons getting diagnosed with HIV daily.
Latest figures from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that there were 1,072 new cases of HIV recorded in the Philippines as of October 2018, with 306 of them young people aged 15 to 24.
The percentage of youth getting infected with HIV has ballooned to 29 per cent from 13 per cent over the last decade.
“The steady rise of HIV cases among minors has been a cause for alarm since they cannot open up to their parents and guardians and get treatment due to social stigma,” said Muyot.
The lack of access to testing centers without consent from parents and guardians, he added, “has deepened the problem as minors continue to contract and spread HIV.”
Save the Children Philippines, in partnership with Global Fund implements an HIV prevention project targeting key populations of men who have sex with men, transgender women, people who inject drugs and young key populations.
The project assists in setting up community HIV centers in addition to Social Hygiene Clinics in different localities that provide free access to HIV-related services. The project also employs community health workers who conduct testing among target communities and facilitate enrollment to treatment of those who test positive.
Save the Children Philippines also joined the Committee on Children and HIV/AIDS (ComCHA), as led by the Council for the Welfare of Children, in pushing for the “Proxy Consent Protocol” that allows those 18 years old and below to get HIV test through a consent from a health or social worker.
The passage of the new HIV law means that the protocol will only be needed for those who are under 15. “The issue of HIV/AIDS is a global health concern that can only be addressed with measures that respect the rights of people especially minors to access health services such as HIV testing and treatment,” Muyot ended.