PDEA apologizes for baring drug suspect's HIV status

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 29) — The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) apologized for disclosing a drug suspect's human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status, following the uproar online.

"PDEA has expressed regret in the inadvertent mention during a recent press conference that one of the suspects, though his identity was withheld, is infected with HIV. We may have gone overboard by violating his right to privacy," the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Contrary to the statement, PDEA Director Aaron Aquino named the person living with HIV during a media briefing on Monday. He also said the 11 suspects arrested were about to have a sex orgy in a Taguig hotel, which could mean the 10 other suspects, whom he referred to as mostly homosexuals, were "most likely contaminated" by the person living with HIV.

PDEA said in their desire to warn the public against using illegal drugs during sexual acts, they didn't consider the suspect's privacy.

"In our ardent desire to issue a warning that organized passion parties spiked with illegal drugs and involving male-to-male sexual partners may contribute to the high prevalence of HIV infections in the country, we have disregarded the context of privacy. It was never our intention to be insensitive and discriminatory against people with HIV," he said.

Republic Act 8504, or Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, states there should be confidentiality on the identity and status of persons living with HIV.

PDEA nabbed 11 drug suspects in a hotel in Taguig City on November 26. Shabu, ecstasy, and gamma butyrolactone (GBL) or liquid ecstasy worth P340,500 were seized. The agency has taken the sole lead in the government's war against drugs upon President Rodrigo Duterte's order.

Netizens slammed PDEA and news agencies for publishing the identity of the person living with HIV. Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-Ao also expressed their dismay.

Wurtzbach urged PDEA and media outlets involved to "take steps to mend" the situation. She encouraged them to use their positions to spread HIV awareness.

In the Philippines, some 44,000 HIV cases have been reported from January 1984 to May 2017. The Department of Health said the country is facing an alarming rise in HIV infections. About 81 percent of the 44,000 diagnosed cases were recorded in the last five and a half years.

The virus greatly affects the LGBT community, as unprotected sex between males accounts for over 80 percent of transmissions. Unprotected sex between heterosexuals follows at 12 percent. However, HIV is also commonly transmitted through infected needles and pregnancy.

Organizations like Love Yourself and The Red Whistle offer free and confidential HIV testing.