Children’s welfare in the Philippines is far behind the ideal due to countless factors — one of which is mainly poverty that unbelievably restricts children’s access to the exercise of their rights including the right to education, a livable environment, and of course, health care.
One of the most crucial health risks for children is HIV/AIDS. Over 30% of all new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among youth ages 15 to 25 years. Also, children infected with HIV at birth are increasing, which accounts for an estimated 5 million youth living with HIV.
According to UNICEF, the Philippines still represents one of the highest growing numbers in AIDS cases and now has one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the world. 2017 UNAIDS Data says that the country experienced the highest increase in HIV infections across Asia and the Pacific between 2010 and 2016. While only 4% of all reported HIV-positive cases in the whole country were individuals aged 19 years old and below, the 2015 Integrated HIV Behavioural and Serologic Surveillance (IHBSS) indicates an escalating HIV problem among Filipino adolescents. From 2011 to 2015, newly diagnosed HIV cases among young people increased by 230% — an alarming risk to children’s rights and welfare. Studies over the past 5 years suggest that young people are most at risk, with 2 in 3 cases belonging to the 15 to 24 age group.
Children’s access to HIV testing is regulated in part by Republic Act 8504, the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, which states that people may consent to HIV testing if they are ‘of legal’ age (which is 18 years old according to the Family Code of the Philippines) or if they have obtained parental consent in case of a minor. Even though HIV testing centers are available in the country, not all people have access to it. There are different factors that contribute to the escalating HIV epidemic, one of which is awareness.
Comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS appears to be very limited among young Filipinos. For example, in 2013, only 17% of survey respondents aged 15-24 have comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS, which is far below the 95% standard set by the UN. Studies have also shown that the general awareness of HIV/AIDS among the Filipino youth is declining. But even with the proper knowledge, the parental consent required for testing might have been inhibiting young people from getting tested, therefore delaying treatment as well.
The Sustainable Development Goals aim to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. But for the Philippines to even come close to this target, we need to adopt the ‘Ending AIDS’ approach, scaling the universal access to treatment while also optimizing prevention actions for high-risk groups through spreading awareness, education, and access to a proper diagnosis and treatment. However, we will need at least a $1 million annual investment until 2030. We just hope the government realizes the greater need for health budget to be able to give our children the proper future they deserve.