LAST June 19 was the 154th birthday of the country’s national hero. What advice will Jose Rizal give to the youth of today, brimming with potentials but also faced with challenges Rizal’s generation never even imagined?

On Rizal’s birthday, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) threw a concert at the Fuente Osmeña Circle. The SMS from Galo Gino III, PLCPD media officer, said the concert would last till midnight, with free testing for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from 6 to 10 p.m.

For the PLCPD, Department of Health (DOH), United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and other partners, it was fitting to hold the “#TESTED CONCERT” on the birthday of the man who regarded the youth as the hope of the country. 

Last March recorded the “fast and furious” increase in HIV cases in the country, according to the Philippine HIV/AIDS and ART Registry. Twenty-five percent of those diagnosed fell within the ages of 15-24 years.

Amend RA 8504

The June 19 advocacy concert with free HIV testing culminated the commemoration of the Aids Candlelight Memorial and National HIV Testing Week. The PLCPD and other stakeholders held simultaneous events in Cebu, Iloilo, Zamboanga and Quezon City to make more people aware of the advocacy to amend Republic Act (RA) 8504.

In its June 18 media statement, the PLCPD noted that the “’fast and furious’ increase in HIV cases in the country… needs an equally fast and furious, urgent and aggressive response” from all stakeholders.

RA 8504, also known as the Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998, requires that minors should get their parents’ consent before being tested for HIV. Advocates such as the PLCPD argue that the country, as a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, should remove this requirement of parental consent. The UN Convention “recognizes the evolving and enhanced decision-making capability of children.”

Aggressive

Testing and early detection of HIV will enable a person to get counseling and medical care that may slow down the virus from fully developing into the acquired immunodeficiency virus (Aids), which disables the immune system and its capability to fight the organisms that cause disease.

The campaign to promote adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights should involve all stakeholders in educating youths about HIV/Aids prevention and treatment, as well as improving their access to reproductive health products and services. 

Based on the April 2015 new HIV cases recorded by the Philippine HIV/Aids and ART Registry, there are 20 persons infected with HIV daily. That’s a “huge jump” from the 2008 daily average of one new HIV case, notes the PLCPD.

Certain sexual behaviors put people at risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV. Early initiation into sexual intercourse makes the youth vulnerable. The 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study monitored that 23 percent of young Filipinos engage in sex before reaching the age of 18, and that 78 percent did not use condoms during their first sexual intercourse.  Unprotected sex is the most common form of viral transmission, according to the DOH.

The DOH Region 7 recorded that Cebu City has the “highest prevalence of HIV cases among men who have sex with men (MSM)”. Central Visayas also has the highest prevalence of HIV cases among people who inject drugs (PWIDs). Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu account for about 5,000 PWIDs, reported the DOH. Nearly 30 percent of PWIDs in Cebu City and 40 percent in Mandaue shared needles during their last session, which puts them at risk of acquiring HIV and hepatitis C.

Rizal may not have foreseen the challenges awaiting this generation, but his belief in the Filipino youth is unerring. We share the stake in preventing HIV/Aids from curtailing that future full of promise.