National Youth Commission (NYC) chair Aiza Seguerra says that minors as young as 15 years old should be allowed to be tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) without parental consent.
Politikal Pinoy couldn’t disagree more.
I have been involved in HIV prevention services for almost a decade in California and Hawaii and I know first hand the challenges and barriers faced by health educators, practitioners, sexually-active individuals and their friends and family when it comes to this autoimmune disorder.
While like Seguerra, I am alarmed at the rise in the number of Filipinos infected with HIV especially among our youth, any public policy that deals with this very sensitive issue must be based on realities rather than emotion.
Even among adults, HIV testing — because of fear and stigma — requires a standard practice that involves pre- and post-counseling, coupled with resources that are available to those who test positive to the virus that can lead to AIDS.
It is important for anyone being tested to fully understand the facts about HIV: how it is transmitted, what can be done to prevent or delay the onset of AIDS, behavioral changes that need to happen, treatment options, and yes, how to deal with stigma among friends, co-workers and family members.
Imagine a 15-year-old Filipino youth testing positive and telling his or her parents about the test results for the first time.
The most important question is, who is going to deal with the minor’s HIV status or diagnosis after the fact? Aren’t the parents or close family members the first to come to the rescue? Who will take care of the minor as he or she goes through this scary situation? So why not involve the parents from the very start? Are we creating a bigger monster whereby kids who test positive for HIV go into hiding from their families?
Rather than change the consent procedure for minors, it is best for the government, health authorities and educators to focus on prevention education among the youth, and to make sure that we have the right resources to deal with this health crisis. And while we’re at it, let’s also educate the parents, including Vice President Leni Robredo who has said that condom distribution in schools promotes a culture of “promiscuity.”
From my experience, it is precisely the lack of open communication between parents or family members and their children that contributes to the stigma of HIV/AIDS.
On the contrary, a healthy family atmosphere where sensitive issues like sex and sexual behavior are openly discussed without judgment or condemnation can eliminate, or at least reduce the stigma.
The Catholic Church also needs to be involved in creating this healthy atmosphere considering that its outdated rules and pronouncements have precisely contributed to the secrecy and stigma of this epidemic. But that’s for discussion at another time.