Filipinos living with HIV are exposed to further risks because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the initial findings of a recent study by the TLF Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Course or TLF Share.
The said study revealed that limitations to the country’s healthcare system and the lack of social protection mechanisms contributed to the worsening of persons living with HIV’s [PLHIV] access to care, treatment and support.
“This pandemic brought to light the need to establish and strengthen social protection measures for key affected population like PLHIVs in times of a pandemic or any disruption”, said Anastacio Marasigan, TLF Share Executive Director. “Social protection policies and programs for HIV should be crisis-sensitive”, he added.
The study, commissioned by UNAIDS in the Philippines, also documented mobility challenges to accessing healthcare and treatment for HIV due to the imposed lockdowns in Luzon and the National Capital Region. “PLHIVs were forced to disclose their status in military and police checkpoints. There was no clear protocol for checkpoint personnel on how to deal with PLHIVs”, detailed Marasigan.
TLF Share also reported that women living with HIV faced domestic or intimate partner violence. Due to the lockdown and financial restrictions, women were subject to isolation and abuse.
The study recommended a human-rights based implementation of COVID-19 protocols, rules and regulations. “We need to define mechanisms for the protection of PLHIVs not only during the pandemic but for all events that pose service-disruption like disasters”, said Marasigan.
Also among the recommendations of the study are (1) to decentralize HIV services and empower clinics, communities and service providers; (2) fully centralize and modernize databasing system with standard data privacy protocol; and (3) allow flexibility of government rules, regulations, and requirements to make it resilient to the demands of fast response in times of crises like pandemics, calamities, and disasters.