Abandon plans to enforce compulsory HIV testing #NoWitchHunt @DOHgovph
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Compulsory testing is illegal, ineffective, and dangerous.
Our current legal framework allows for various modes of HIV testing, but they have to be voluntary and confidential. This is clearly rights-based, but this is also informed by existing evidence that coercive modes of HIV testing reduce the take up of testing services. Those who need to get tested fear discrimination and abuse and hide underground once authorities make testing compulsory. The fear is not unfounded; we still have not addressed HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
Compulsory testing is problematic, costly, and encourages human rights abuses.
In a concentrated epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgenders, how do you intend to find those who will be required to get tested? Your Department has evidence that shows the complexity of the Filipino sexual behavior. By definition, men who have sex with men include those who engage in sexual acts with other men but do not consider themselves as gay. The DOH also has data that shows a significant portion of men who have sex with men have female sexual partners, too. Will you require all of these individuals to get tested? How do you fund this? This could easily be translated into a witch-hunt, and going by the statements of some LGU officials, it seems that this is precisely what will happen.
The alternative to compulsory testing is community-led HIV testing, which is legal, cost-effective, evidence-informed, and human rights-based.
For the last four years, collaboration between community groups and government-run HIV testing facilities has intensified, resulting into the increase in the uptake on HIV testing, which partly accounts for the increase in new HIV infections recorded by the Philippine HIV/AIDS Registry. In a recent review, international and local HIV experts cite this model as an effective approach in a concentrated epidemic, a review that you have accepted on behalf of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), which you chair. The same review has already warned against compulsory HIV testing, which is why I wonder why you are pushing this policy despite accepting the findings of the review.
Abandon your plans to enforce compulsory HIV testing and focus instead on addressing existing issues. There is an ongoing shortage of life-saving anti-retroviral drugs, there is a lack of funding for local HIV programs, there are gaps in resources and services, and HIV-related stigma and discrimination is still preventing people from getting tested and from accessing crucial HIV services. Why resort to unlawful, dangerous, and ineffective interventions, when you should be exercising leadership to deliver evidence-based and human rights-informed solutions?
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