THE number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in the Philippines has ballooned to almost 50,000 in over a decade, yet most workers afflicted with HIV who suffer discrimination in the workplace do not seek redress because of shame and the weak implementation of the law on such matters, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.
HRW Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said the Philippines now owned the distinction as having the fastest-growing HIV infection rate in Asia Pacific that the government must not turn a blind eye to.
“The Philippines faces a double whammy of increasing HIV infection and fears by workers with HIV that they can’t seek justice if they are discriminated against on the job,” Conde said in a statement.
“The government needs to ensure that people living with HIV get better protection in their jobs and that the public gets more and better information on HIV.”
Citing government data, HRW said the number of new cases in the Philippines of HIV, which causes the deadly AIDS, jumped from only four a day in 2010 to 31 a day as of November 2017. From just 117 cases a decade ago, the total number of HIV cases as of November 2017 is 49,733, an overwhelming majority of which – 41,369, or 83 percent – were reported in the last five years alone.
Most new infections, up to 83 percent according to the Philippine government, occur among men or transgender women who have sex with men.
“Unless the govt puts condom use and sexuality education is at the core of its #HIV prevention strategy, the #Philippines HIV epidemic is unlikely to abate” warns @hrw @condeHRW https://t.co/kkPki8XhP6
— Phelim Kine 林海 (@PhelimKine) February 1, 2018
While the country has enacted Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, which criminalises discrimination against people living with HIV in the workplace, Conde said “there is little evidence that the government is adequately enforcing the laws to prevent and punish workplace discrimination.”
Workplace discrimination in the Philippines includes refusal to hire, unlawful firing, and forced resignation of people with HIV. Some employers may also disregard or actively facilitate workplace harassment of employees who are HIV positive.
In most of the discrimination cases that HRW documented, employees with HIV did not file formal complaints, most frequently due to fear of being further exposed as HIV positive, which could prevent future employment.
In the case of Prince (not his real name), a 24-year-old X-ray technician from a city in Mindanao, he was told to “rest” for a month after the private hospital where he worked learned in May 2017 that he had HIV.
But when he returned to work, he was asked to resign. “The hospital owner told me that she had to protect her business,” Prince said.
He said the owner asked him to resign instead of just firing him “because if she terminated me, that would reflect on my certificate of employment, which would make it hard for me to find another job.”
Prince agreed to resign but regrets the decision. “Had I known my rights, I would have fought back,” he said.
In August 2017, the Philippine government declared a “national emergency” due to the worsening HIV cases in the country.
Conde said the epidemic is fueled by “an environment hostile to policies and programs proven to help prevent HIV transmission.”
Government policies create obstacles to access condoms and HIV testing, and limit educational efforts on HIV prevention, he added.
People with HIV appear very reluctant to file complaints, according to Leah Barbia, of the Commission on Human Rights’ Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights Center.
“I think the problem is that people with HIV who felt discriminated just don’t know who to approach to seek redress,” Barbia was quoted as saying by HRW.
The Philippine government should create a major education and awareness campaign through various media to inform people living with HIV of their rights concerning workplace discrimination, HRW said.
It should direct concerned agencies to create and publish regularly updated databases of discrimination cases. And it should conduct an expanded public education campaign about HIV and address the wider issue of social stigmatisation of people with HIV, the group said.