MANILA (Mabuhay) – A network of civil society groups involved in anti-AIDS advocacy work is threatening to sue the Department of Health if it pushes through with plans to implement mandatory HIV testing.
The 21-organization Network to Stop AIDS Philippines, in a statement, called the DOH plan “illegal, ineffective and dangerous” and accused Health Secretary Enrique Ona of “refusing” to listen.
“It is not allowed under the current law not only because it violates basic human rights, it is also ineffective in ensuring that people who need to get tested for HIV do actually get tested. They just go underground because of fear of abuse and discrimination, which will be exacerbated by the implementation of mandatory testing,” Mara Q. Bondad of Action for Health Initiatives was quoted in the statement.
Babae Plus’ Elene Felix, noting that Filipinos with HIV are “already experiencing stigma and discrimination,” said mandatory testing would “lead to a witch hunt against those who are believed to be infected” and “create a climate of terror that will prevent communities from accessing life-saving HIV services.”
The Network called the DOH for being “the weakest link in the country’s response to the HIV epidemic” and chided it for failing to understand “a complex sexual map.”
Jonas Bagas of the TLF SHARE Collective cited men who engage in same-sex behavior, the sector most at risk of infection, asking, “who exactly are they going to require to get tested?”
“Transgender people have sexual partners who see themselves as heterosexuals. There are men who have sex with other men but do not self-identify as gay. Men who have sex with men also have female sexual partners, who are also at risk of getting infected with HIV,” Bagas said, warning that “the decision on who’ll be required to get tested will most likely be based on prejudice, not medical or epidemiological evidence.”
The push for mandatory testing, said the support group RedX, means “the healthcare system is not ready to address the epidemic.”
The group’s Drew Garcia noted that, while the DOH “wants to force people to get tested presumably to introduce them to HIV treatment … the country is actually experiencing a stock out in ARV supplies,” or antiretroviral drugs.(MNS)