RE-EXAMINING laws is one way of curtailing the alarming increase of HIV/AIDS cases in the country.

In a forum last Jan. 8, former Faculty of Arts and Letters dean Armando de Jesus and his team of researchers called for a reassessment of the framework and paradigms of Republi Act (RA) 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Drugs Act of 2002, amid the surge in cases of HIV/AIDS in the country attributed to the use of needles.

“[RA 9165] was the product of a situation in 2002 just as the RA 8504 was a product of a situation in 1998,” De Jesus said in his lecture at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex. “But obviously, things have changed since then.”

RA 8504, or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, sought to prevent and control HIV/AIDS in the country through an information system as well as HIV/AIDS educational programs.

Department of Health (DOH) Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag, one of the reactors in the forum, said the law prohibits certain measures in addressing HIV/AIDS cases, particularly those involving “people who inject drugs” (PWID).

“All of this is a tug-of-war between preventing HIV/AIDS spread and making sure that the drug problems will not grow,” Tayag said.

De Jesus’ study showed that HIV/AIDS transmission is highly attributed to heterosexual contact (50 percent), which is considered the most prevalent mode of transmission. It was followed by homosexual contact, or men having sexual intercourse with other men (33 percent), mother-to-child transmission, blood transfusion, and bi-sexual contact. Drug use through shared needles, meanwhile, accounted for only three percent.

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While the focus is solely on the heterosexual transmission of HIV/AIDS, the minute percentage of other factors, particularly needle use, should not be ignored, De Jesus said.

In 2011, a drastic rise in the cases of HIV/AIDS occurred, driven by the use of needles in at least three “sentinel” sites: Cebu, Zamboanga, and Mandaue. From a mere one percent hike in 1984 to 2009, the number of HIV/AIDS cases due to administration of drugs through injection rose by 6.89 percent in 2012, the study showed.

One of the measures considered to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among PWIDs is the Needle Exchange Program (NEP).

According to Avert.org, NEP offers access to disinfected needles and syringes to lessen the risk of PWIDs being exposed to other users’ blood. However, such program could not be introduced in a country that considers as illegal the use of needles and syringes for recreational drugs.

Under RA 9165, mere possession of “any paraphernalia, apparatus, materials or appliances intended for administering or producing dangerous drugs” is considered unlawful unless prescription is provided.

“The law would classify needles and syringes as drug paraphernalia,” Tayag said. “Kapag nagbigay ka ng syringe needle, huli ka.”

But De Jesus noted that the program, which is practiced in 82 countries, does not lead to the increase of drug use in general.

“The [NEP] is not just really a matter of providing needles but it is a way of building communication with the drug dependents,” he said. “The [NEP] should be seen in a more holistic [and] integrated perspective.”

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Previously categorized by the DOH as a “notifiable disease” in 1986, HIV/AIDS became a “nascent epidemic” or an emerging outbreak in 2000. It eventually worsened into a “hidden and growing phenomenon” in the period 2006 to 2010, De Jesus reported.

A report released by the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in November showed that there has been a 25-percent increase on such issue in the last decade in the country.

In 2011, the Philippine National Aids Council (PNAC) projected that by 2015, 62 in 100,000 adults would be infected with AIDS.

The United Nations Development Program funded the seven-month-long study, which was part of the umbrella program “Scaling-Up Effective and Sustained Response to HIV and AIDS.” Cez Mariela Teresa G. Verzosa

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