New law allows HIV testing of minors without parental consent

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The first case of HIV infection in the Philippines was reported in 1984.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 28) — Minors aged 15 to under 18 could now get tested for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) even without the consent of their parents or legal guardian after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the HIV and AIDS Policy Act into law.

Article IV, Section 29 of the new law states that minors within the age category could consent to voluntary HIV testing without the approval of their parents or guardians, as previously required under Republic Act 8504.

Parents and guardians of minors below 15 who are pregnant or engaged in high-risk behavior would also not need to give their consent for HIV testing.

Consent from parents and guardians is still required in all other cases involving minors, unless they could not be located or if they refuse consent. In such cases, the licensed social worker or health worker would give consent, with the agreement of the minor.

"There have been too many cases of children and teens getting HIV. Government must protect and care for the young especially so because they are vulnerable to the public health dangers," Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo said Friday in a statement.

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According to latest data from the Department of Health (DOH), 29 percent of the 1,072 cases recorded in October 2018 were 15-24 years old at the time that they were tested. From January to October, the DOH recorded 2,834 HIV cases in people aged 24 below.

Most cases of HIV, however, have been recorded among people aged 25-34.

According to UNAIDS, the Philippines has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific, with infections jumping by 140 percent from 2010 to 2016.

Free treatment, education

The new law also mandates the DOH to establish a program that would provide free and accessible anti-retroviral treatment and medication for opportunistic infections to people living with HIV who would enroll in the program.

It also states that the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation would develop a benefit package for people living with HIV which should include coverage for inpatient and outpatient medical and diagnostic services, including medication and treatment.

Denying people living with HIV of private health and life insurance coverage and claims is also prohibited under the law.

It also requires basic and age-appropriate instruction on the causes, modes of transmission and prevention of HIV, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and other sexually-transmitted infections in public and private schools, including alternative and indigenous learning systems.

The Department of Education is also mandated to conduct awareness-building seminars in coordination with parent-teacher organizations to provide parents and guardians with a "gender-responsive and age-sensitive HIV and AIDS education."

Education on HIV and AIDS shall also be provided to all public and private employers and employees, members of the military and police, overseas Filipino workers, communities and key populations at higher risk for infection.

Penalties for disclosure, discrimination

The new law imposes a jail term of six months to two years and/or a fine of not less than ₱50,000 on anyone who discloses the information that a person has AIDS, undergone an HIV-related test, has HIV or HIV-related illnesses or has been exposed to HIV, without their written consent.

Disclosure of the name, picture or any information that would identify people living with HIV and AIDS or any confidential HIV and AIDS information on media without their written consent is also prohibited. The mass dissemination of these confidential information would be punished with imprisonment for two years and one day to five years, and/or a fine of ₱150,000 to ₱350,000.

This new provision in the law on HIV and AIDS prevention and intervention comes after the media's coverage of a drug sting where the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency disclosed the HIV status of one of the suspects.

Discrimination against people with HIV would also be punished with a jail term of six months to five years and/or a fine of ₱50,000 to ₱500,000, and may have their business permit, business license or accreditation or professional license suspended or revoked.