MANILA, Philippines – There were 316 newly registered HIV cases for September 2012, a record high for the country, with a cumulative total of 10,830 since 1984 in the Department of Health’s (DOH) HIV Registry.
With the international community’s strong campaign against the virus, the Philippines still remains one of seven countries with a continued increase of HIV infections.
Fact is it’s the younger generation who take the biggest blow from the epidemic. The latest statistics show that 30% of the people diagnosed for September 2012 alone were 20-29 years of age — the age where dreams for the future are cemented and the path towards them are chosen or are already being taken.
We’re facing a looming threat, and the biggest challenge is how to get the public to fight with us, or even to just start caring. In a time where there’s a global decline in the new cases, why are we still on a steep increase in number?
The low-down on HIV and the Philippines
The first AIDS case was during the early 1980s. People had a hard time grappling with it since it was rapidly spreading in the US and it involved a transmission that is a taboo topic (you guessed it, sex), until now in this Catholic country. But the advocacy went on, struggling, but it strove to provide correct information to the public. What was just 1 newly infected person in every 3 days a decade back is now 1 in every 3 hours, and still growing.
Currently, the government is still under the funding of an international agency, providing support to HIV prevention in priority cities in the country as well as treatment, care, and support for people living with HIV. The DOH has been preparing for the departure of its major funder, and is facing uncertainty as to what the end of the project would mean for the Philippines.
The project helped us equip the social hygiene clinics with free HIV testing, a handful of hospitals with HIV and AIDS Core Teams to handle people living with HIV, and provide free ARV treatment (under specific conditions).
On the other hand, the past few years have provided the advocacy with great allies from the private sector. Organizations like Take The Test, Project Headshots Clinic, The Love Yourself, Yoga For Life, Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines, and other groups have taken on the challenge of making HIV more than just a health issue, but a social issue.
Hopefully not a repeat of the San Francisco AIDS scare
In the stats, 96% of HIV cases are males.
It might not be known to a lot of people but what is happening to us here, with the exponential growth of the HIV epidemic, has happened before in San Francisco during the 80s. It was the time where the virus was not even known as HIV yet but was called a lot of different names, a couple of the more famous ones are Gay Related Infectious Disease (GRID) or the “Gay Cancer”. If you look at the data now, I’m sure you’ll see the similarity.
Just to make things clear, homosexuality does not equate to HIV. What needs to be seen here is the persistence of the government to deny the public of the basic means to prevent the spread of the infection. Prioritization needed: Education for all, acceptance of condoms as one of the best ways to protect the people, and acknowledging the necessity to have legislation that will cradle the advocacy for HIV awareness and the care for the positive community.
The LGBT community in the Philippines has been vehemently trying to promote HIV awareness, especially since most of the cases are tallied under infection via homosexual activity. Much like what they’ve clamored for in the US, they call for the government to allow them to freely express their sexual rights and recognizing the fact that there is a need to focus on HIV as a national concern, especially since HIV and AIDS isn’t a “gay disease” but it affects everyone. Everyone has sex, and doing so unprotected increases the risk not only of getting HIV, but also of other sexually transmissible infections. And to quote Ms. Teresita Marie Bagasao, UNAIDS Philippines Country Coordinator, “If we lift the stigma, lift the discrimination, people will come forward and participate in finding solutions to the problem.”
HIV, the Internet, and me
The Internet is everywhere, and that’s a fact. The boom of social networks and the accessibility of mobile internet contribute to satiating the Filipino’s thirst for being connected with people. One of the drawbacks brought upon by this innovation is the increase in sexual negotiations. And since the youth are growing in the world of Android and iOS, ensuring their guidance about sex and HIV should be a priority.
This was given recognition by the DOH and AIDS Society of the Philippines, Inc., which paved the way for the promotion of HIV education and free testing services via social networking sites. As earlier mentioned, the private sector advocacy groups took to the internet to mount their HIV prevention advocacies. The AIDS Candlelight Memorial activities that celebrate the lives of people living with HIV, and World AIDS Day which is the livelier and awareness advocacy-driven event, are the two events where most of the groups come together to help out, especially promoting activities online.
On a good note, education has been a lot easier to disseminate because of the internet. Cool ways of telling people the basics about HIV and how to stay protected have sprung from the creative minds of people from different sectors. Photographer to the celebrities Niccolo Cosme has the yearly Project Headshots Clinic online campaign that features celebrities on portrait shots that is coupled with statements about how HIV has affected their lives. Much is to be explored with the presence of the internet, hopefully more of the positive ones.
Helping out isn’t all too hard anymore as well. All you need do is go online, and find these organizations. Pretty sure they all have online handles.
What happens next?
That’s pretty much up to you.
According to Dr. Eric Tayag of the Department of Health, the projected number of HIV cases in the country by 2015 is 30,000 or more.
How do you start? The best way is to have you tested for HIV and educating yourself about it. HIV testing is the only way one finds out if he or she has the virus. Knowledge is power, they say, and if you know your status, you’re well on your way to a better life.
Being HIV positive and knowing it soon is the start of having yourself undergo the right treatment and is your best springboard to changing your lifestyle to a healthier way of living. There are also institutions and organizations that provide support to people living with HIV, both government and private, so there’s always somewhere to go to. Being HIV negative, however, should be always taken seriously. Knowing your status and continuously living a risky sexual lifestyle always puts a target on your wellness, so having a negative status should be given priority and kept as such.
Education is pretty much the key to ending confusion and disparity between morality and what is actually happening. Knowing HIV 101 not only gives people the ammunition for war against the epidemic, it also builds the foundation to a well-informed country, further preventing another prospective HIV case.
It’s all about knowing where we stand and why we do the things we do. People have different reasons for what they do under the sheets, especially when they’re young. I always say one thing though, explore your sexuality responsibly.
For more information, please visit our website aidsphil.org. For your sexual health needs, contact iCON Clinic at 0917-826-iCON (4266) / 0932-877-iCON (4266). The clinic is open on Saturdays 1pm-9pm.