A Condom versus the Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998: Which Has Holes Leaving Filipinos Unprotected?

Article excerpt

Abstract: In 1998, the Philippine legislature passed pioneering HIV/AIDS legislation in Southeast Asia called the AIDS Prevention and Control Act ("APCA" or "Act"). This comprehensive legislation sought, in part, to ensure access to health care information and to stop the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS. Regulations were promulgated by the Philippine National AIDS Council in 1999 to implement the Act. APCA effectively addresses several important HIV/AIDS issues, including prohibiting discrimination and mandatory HIV testing, while ensuring access to basic health care. However, both the regulations and the Act fail to ensure that all scientifically accurate information regarding HIV/AIDS prevention reaches Filipinos. Specifically, the Act and its regulations provide vague guidance on what information may be disseminated lawfully and place restrictions on when and how information can be shared. Additionally, both impose harsh sanctions on health care providers and professionals who supply "misleading information." However, it is unclear what exactly constitutes "misleading information" within APCA and its accompanying regulations. For this reason, health care providers may avoid discussing HIV/AIDS prevention measures and contraceptives with patients. This lack of information about HIV/AIDS leaves many Filipinos unaware of and vulnerable to the devastation of HIV/AIDS.

I. INTRODUCTION

The World Health Organization ("WHO") reported that 4.3 million people became infected with HIV and 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2006 alone.1 In the Philippines, where the sex trade is thriving and much of the population is uneducated about sexually transmitted diseases, the risk of infection is extremely high. Ignorance about how HIV infection occurs and how to prevent it is rampant. As one nineteen year-old sex worker said, she had heard of HIV, but knew nothing about the disease or how to prevent it.2 She did not know what condoms were, never used them before, and heard they were something that could be eaten.3 Another sex worker heard that HIV comes only from fellatio or from having sex with handsome men.4 Consequently, this worker "protects" herself by limiting these activities.5

Sex workers are not the only Filipinos who lack proper education on HIV/AIDS or who have misconceptions about its modes of transmission and infection. Only 30% of men and 36% of women know that neither mosquito bites nor food sharing can transmit HIV.6 Many young adults even believe Filipinos their age are immune to the disease and take no precautions to prevent infection.7 The pervasiveness of these misconceptions is evidence that Filipinos are not receiving adequate, scientifically8 correct information.

Unfortunately, current HIV/AIDS legislation imposes a significant barrier to information distribution that perpetuates inaccurate ideas about the disease. The Philippine legislature passed the AIDS Prevention and Control Act ("APCA" or "Act")9 in 1998 with implementing regulations promulgated by the Philippine National AIDS Council ("PNAC") in 1999.10 APCA and its regulations contain several provisions that specifically address public awareness of the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS.11 However, they fail to adequately describe what preventive information Filipinos are entitled to as well as what legally acceptable information health care providers may disseminate. APCA and its regulations also prescribe criminal penalties for providing "misleading information," ranging from revocation of business licenses to up to two years in prison.12 Therefore, health care providers face a moral dilemma: should they inform their patients about preventive HIV/AIDS measures despite not knowing what constitutes "misleading" information and risk criminal sanctions? Consequently, patients may receive little or no information about how to prevent HIV/AIDS.

Additionally, APCA fails to fulfill the Filipino commitment under the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights ("ICESCR"),13 to reduce the spread of disease and provide access to lifesaving technologies such as condoms. …