The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Potential Public Health Ramifications of the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill (II)

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on June 13, 2011

Recently, Philippine president Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III declared his support for The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011, more commonly referred to as the RH bill. The bill has been a contentious issue for the past several months, although its history predates its reputation. First introduced to Congress in 1998, the bill aims to guarantee reproductive, maternal and child health and ensure universal access to methods and information on birth control.

This blog is the second entry of a two-part series addressing the different aspects of the Philippine RH bill and highlight what public health goals the bill is trying to achieve.

HIV/AIDS in the Philippines

Although UNICEF estimated that the prevalence of HIV among adults in the Philippines in 2009 was less than 0.1 per cent, they also estimated that 8.7 per cent of the Philippine population was HIV positive. HIV/AIDS has also received renewed interest in the country, in part thanks to the media’s highlighting of the 172 new cases detected this year. At first glance, this may appear to be a small figure for a country as populous as the Philippines – but perceptions of the severity of HIV/AIDS in the country have been exacerbated by a number of alarming predictive figures. For example, the Philippine AIDS Council has claimed that the number of HIV cases in the country is anticipated to reach 46,000 by 2015 unless major steps are taken to curb disease spread.

Late last year, UNAIDS also pointed out that “although the national AIDS response is backed by Republic Act 8504, or the National AIDS Law, the country, through the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), has yet to define its prevention strategy and set standards of quality.” With only five years to the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) deadline, the country continues to fall short of its sixth MDG, which is to halt and reserve the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The proposed bill hopes to aid the anti-AIDS cause by calling for the “prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other, sexually transmitted infections (STIs)/sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)”. One of the main methods proposed is the widespread distribution of condoms and ensuring both access and availability. Those who object to the RH bill, however, argue that scientific data proves that HIV/AIDS continues to spread in many countries where condom use is prevalent. Objectors also say that the use of condoms only provides a “false sense of security” which encourages individuals towards increased sexual activity, which leads to higher incidence of HIV/AIDS infection.

The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) has warned, however, that if enacted the RH bill will not eradicate the problems of HIV/AIDS spread and poverty and that the best way to curb the spread of HIV is to educate the sectors of society most at risk of contracting the disease and to convince them to have themselves tested regularly.

As controversy continues to surround the RH bill and its tenets, it remains to be seen whether the bill will pass in Congress. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to continually monitor the evolving HIV/AIDS situation in the Philippines – and what alternative forms of action the government will take to control it, especially in the event of the bill failing to make it past voting.

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