December 1 is World AIDS Day!
This year's theme is “Right to health,” which highlights the need for people living with HIV and those directly affected by epidemic to have access to universal health coverage.
On World AIDS Day, a new protocol that seeks to give children better access to HIV testing and treatment was launched.
With the rising cases of HIV among the youth ages 15-24, the Proxy Consent Protocol was developed to ensure that children can access HIV and AIDS services. (WATCH: Youth join amazing race to raise HIV awareness)
The protocol also covers those who have high risk behaviors (i.e, engaging in unprotected sex or sharing of needles) but are, under Philippine laws, prohibited from getting tested for HIV without the consent of their parents.
Minors and parental consent
Republic Act 8504 or the Philippines AIDS Control Act of 1998 prohibits the testing of minors (17 yeras old and below) without the consent of their parent or legal guardian.
Several case studies, however, revealed that children don't reveal their high-risk behaviors to their parents. (WATCH: Should teens be aware of HIV and AIDS?)
The protocol was developed through a close collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Justice, the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Council for the Welfare of the Children (CWC).
It underwent a series of consultations among key stakeholders through the technical and logistical support from Save the Children and UNICEF.
The cities of Iloilo, Zamboanga, Cebu, Pasay, and Davao were among the protocol's pilot areas.
"The rapid increase of HIV cases is an urgent call for a collective response from all of us, whose mandate is to provide an enabling environment for every Filipino children to survive and thrive," said DSWD Undersecretary Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa.
“It's unacceptable that AIDS-related deaths, especially among adolescents, still occur in times when treatment is available and HIV testing is free,” Templa added.
From July to August 2017, the DOH reported 31 new diagnosed cases per day – 31% were of youth ages 15-24. (WATCH: Raising HIV awareness through yoga)
A true story
Mariel is 17 and identifies as a transgender person.
She was a typical student until she started skipping classes to hang out with friends.
In March 2017, Mariel experienced recurring coughs and colds. She also started spitting blood.
Despite having fears of her condition getting worse, she kept it a secret for two months. “I was so afraid so I kept it to myself. I cannot tell my family," Mariel said in Filipino.
Eventually, Mariel approached a close friend from her youth parish to help her get tested for HIV.
Since she was a minor, she was required to get parental consent, but Mariel sternly refused. She was afraid she would be disowned by her family. (READ: Teen encourages youth & adults to get tested)
Fortunately, Mariel was assisted by a civil society organization and the local City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO). She was provided with the pretest counseling.
The importance of getting tested
After the test, Mariel's blood screening result turned out reactive for HIV.
The specimen was sent to SACCL for confirmatory, and the consent was signed by the trained social worker from the CSWDO. With consent from Mariel, the social worker contacted her parents to inform them of her condition.
Mariel was admitted to the Western Visayas Regional Medical Center, and her mother got involved in her care.
Disclosure counseling was prompted together with the medical social worker, who was also trained counselor with the mother. Members of the HIV-positive group also provided assistance so that Mariel's mother will understand the status of her child.
“It's good that my child’s condition was diagnosed immediately. I am thankful," Mariel's mother said in FIlipino.
With the Proxy Consent Protocol in place, relevant agencies will be guided on how to support children like Mariel.
The DSWD reiterated that the Proxy Consent Protocol is a life-saving intervention, which provides access to necessary services. It's a big help in preventing HIV transmission, as well as in initiating treatment for the Filipino youth.
The protocol will be forwarded to different government agencies.
Stop the stigma. Protect and empower yourself and your loved ones through education.
Together, let's end HIV and AIDS!