UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, introduced Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach as their Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific at a forum held at the Ateneo de Manila University last May 3.
Speaking to an audience composed mostly of students, the beauty queen emphasized the need to get tested. “Know your status. Please get yourself tested,” she urged her listeners. “It (HIV/AIDS) can happen to anyone.”
According to the Global AIDS Response Progress Reporting 2016 and UNAIDS 2016 estimates, those living with HIV in the Philippines has reached around 42,000 people, around 4,500 of whom are women. New infections for 2016 were estimated at 6,400, the majority of whom (62%) are from the ages of 15 to 24 years old.
“This is why the National Youth Commission calls HIV/AIDS an ‘epidemic among the youth,’” says Cynthia Arce of the UNAIDS Philippine office.
The high percentage of new HIV infections among 15 to 24-year olds prompted Pia, who has made HIV her cause since she was crowned, to campaign for lowering the age for HIV testing. “I would like the age of consent to be lowered so that more people can be tested,” says Pia.
Republic Act 8504 on Policies and Prescribing Measures for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines encourages voluntary testing, but it requires written consent from the individual if he/she is of legal age which is 18 years old, or from the parents or legal guardian in the case of minors. Pia pointed out that the law does not reflect the reality. “We all start having sex much younger,” she said. “The law should mirror what’s going on…2017 na po,” she added.
In fact, a United Nations report reveals that the Philippines is the only country in Asia where teen pregnancy is on the rise. One in 10 Filipino girls, from ages 15 to 19--about 10 percent of the Filipino population of 100 million--have already given birth. May-I Fabros of the Philippine Commission on Women (PWC) and the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) said that one teenage girl of said age range gives birth every two and a half minutes in the Philippines. The UN report also found that 15 percent of adolescent girls already had sex before the age of 15.
UNAIDS reported that from 2010 to 2015, new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region dropped to 5% among people of all ages. The program also noted that youth in the Asia Pacific was a high-risk group since it accounts for 37% of new HIV infections in 2015.