Restrictions on the Reproductive Health Law fueling the HIV epidemic in the Philippines

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The Philippines has seen an increase in the incidence of HIV cases in recent years. According to UNAIDS report, there have been approximately 16,000 new cases of HIV in the county in the year 2019 alone.It is estimated that 83% of newly diagnosed cases of HIV are among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women having sex with men (TGW), majority of which are between the ages of 15 to 24 years old.In a 2015 survey conducted by the Philippines Department of Health illustrated that only 35% of MSM and TGW had proper knowledge on HIV.Many young Filipinos lack knowledge about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases which is attributable to the absence of a comprehensive sexual education in schools and universities. Furthermore, only 40% of MSM admitted to using condoms according to the UNAIDS survey in 2018. The Philippine government have made efforts to address the rise of HIV cases in the country; however, policies’ restrictions on certain HIV programs create barriers to control and reverse the ascending trend of the epidemic.

The Catholic Church has been a significant influence in Philippine society and its political system since the Spanish colonization. Approximately 80 percent of Filipinos identify as Catholics, therefore laws and regulations are often aligned with the conservative teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The Republic Act 10354: The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, also known as the Reproductive Health law, was passed by the government of the Philippines that secures the right of every national to have universal access to modern family planning, methods of contraception, sexual education, and reproductive health. Church leaders and other conservative officials opposed the RH law, proclaiming that it will only encourage acts of immorality. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is in strong opposition against the distribution of contraceptives and integration of sexual education in schools. The institution advocates for abstinence as a solution to the growing HIV epidemic and advises government officials to rely on parents to educate their children regarding sex. After only one year of the law’s passing, the Supreme Court announced its suspension following allegations from the CBCP that it is unconstitutional. In 2014, the Supreme Court lifted the suspension and deemed the RH law constitutional. Despite this major achievement, incidence of HIV cases continues to escalate and revisions to the current policies under RH law are necessary to control disease transmission. For instance, Section 7 of the RH Law declares that all citizens have access to family planning services with the exception of individuals under the age of 18, who are required to have consent from parents or legal guardians before access to contraceptives and family planning services are granted. This restriction inhibits sexually active teens and young adults to gain access to condoms which puts them at risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In addition, Section 14 of the RH Law states that age and development-appropriate reproductive health education should be integrated in school curriculums only after consultations from school officials, interest groups and parent-teachers associations regarding course content. The section also declares the Department of Education to formulate a reproductive health curriculum to be applied in public schools and possibly adopted by private school institutions. This presents potential variations in the content of sex education and such inconsistencies can impact the quality of education the students receive.

As a healthcare professional, I strongly believe that a revision to the current Reproductive Health law in the Philippines, particularly in Section 7 and 14, is necessary to control the upsurge of HIV cases in the country. Mandatory enforcement of unbiased comprehensive sexual education in schools and revoking current age restrictions to condom access will eliminate barriers to condom use and safe sex practices. In addition, it will empower teens and young adults to make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health. The revision of the Reproductive Health law should be viewed in the broader context of disease control and prevention rather than a promotion of immorality and promiscuity. An effective, evidenced-based prevention strategy will facilitate the end of the HIV crisis in the country.

3 Responses to “Restrictions on the Reproductive Health Law fueling the HIV epidemic in the Philippines”

  1. Tropical Health Matters » Restrictions on the Reproductive Health Law fueling the HIV epidemic in the Philippines Says:

    […] We occasionally share global health posts from the Blog, “Social, Cultural, and Behavioral Issues in PHC and Global Health“, a site that provides students from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health a chance to learn about and create advocacy material. Below is a posting from May 9, 2021 by “laarnipatotoy“. […]

  2. shibhar Says:

    This is a fascinating post. I am very curious to read further regarding what grounds the CBCP used to contest the constitutionality of the law. I completely agree with you regarding your point on ease of access early. Early habit development is key to exercising positive health behaviors, and can play a crucial role in later condom use within at-risk groups.
    I do think that in addition to the changes you have proposed, some immediate intervention in most significantly affected communities (MSM and TGW) may have the most profound impact, especially in short term.
    In addition to encouraging condom use and provision of free condoms to these at-risk groups, scaling up use or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with tenofovir/emtricitabine may be desirable. Currently this combination is unapproved in the Philippines for PrEP. It will also be interesting to see whether CBCP would have a position on PrEP usage (akin to oral contraceptives), and whether they will promulgate their position via political action.

  3. Val M Says:

    We need science based reproductive policy. The United States should be a leader here. We need to be leaders here but unfortunately it is difficult to separate the ideological cultural and religious influence when it comes to matters of social policy. We already know not providing teenagers with access to contraception isn’t going to stop them from being sexually active like section 7 of this provision is hoping it will. I like the idea of section 14 but agree with you that the teachings should be standardized across the board.

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