Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a new policy to improve the government’s response to a fast-growing HIV and Aids crisis.

The Philippine HIV and Aids Policy Act of 2018 was approved on December 20, 2018, but its passage in Congress and enactment into policy by the President was made known only on Wednesday.

The new measure revitalises and updates the Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998.

According to presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, the policy’s passage is critical given the rising number of cases of HIV and Aids in the Philippines.

“We consider its enactment and signing timely and relevant on account of the report of the Department of Health disclosing that our country has the highest percentage relative to the increase of new HIV cases in the Asia-Pacific region from 2010 to 2016,” he said.

A report released in December by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAIDS) said the number of cases in the Philippines had risen by more than 174 per cent since 2010.

“The Philippines has become the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific,” the report said.

Panelo said although the Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998 had long been in effect, the new HIV and Aids Policy Act of 2018 would update the legal framework in addressing the prevalence of the virus.

“This piece of landmark legislation will significantly reduce the stigma faced by people living with HIV and Aids,” he said.

The previous Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998 was passed into law during a time when treatment of the condition was limited.

Advances in medicine have made it possible to alleviate the condition of people living with Aids.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, principal author and co-sponsor of the Philippine HIV and Aids Policy said that with the signing into law of this measure, the country now has a modern policy to curb the prevalence of HIV and Aids in the country.

“With this law, the government can now effectively update and upgrade its response to this growing problem,” she said.

Likewise, the new policy provides more protection to the rights of individuals living with HIV while also giving them with greater access to treatment through updated health technologies.

“Many lives have been unnecessarily lost due to Aids, including the lives of many young people. Today, we change the course of this rising epidemic and hopefully, help usher in an AIDS-free generation,” she said.