by Angelo Esperanzate
It’s a matter of prevention versus cure. I’m talking about the constant woes in HIV advocacy caused by people using the Internet as an avenue of baseless accusations and unwarranted disclosure of people’s HIV status.
Early this year, an individual chose an online social network as the platform to indict a student of being HIV-positive and of deliberately infecting other people through a poster of the student’s picture and other identifying features. As expected, with the phenomena brought by these online mediums, the post spread like wildfire through countless re-posts. It drew different comments; a few, of dismay that someone would do this to shame a person, but mostly of confusion and fear that probably, this person might actually be purposely infecting others.
To save a maligned name and disprove the unknown perpetrator, the student took the HIV screening test at a social hygiene clinics and got a non-reactive result.
This has happened before. A blog targeted multiple subscribers of a gay social networking site and branded them HIV-positive as well. This even reached mainstream media and caused quite a blow towards our efforts of dissipating the fear of HIV, which would eventually hamper the public’s opportunities of understanding HIV and AIDS.
In light of a current law penalizing people who malign others, with some using HIV infection at the core of accusations, I think it’s good that there is something to use against persons who put others in a bad light. Given the lack of teeth of RA 8504, or the Philippine AIDS Law, it could help put a stop to the destructive online attacks. But I think we can do more than just chastise.
But then again, why not just aid the campaign on HIV prevention by educating people, strengthening school campaigns and helping the media handle this very sensitive topic? HIV is no longer just a health issue. It is a social issue given the country’s taboo perception on sex and sexual contact, which is currently the most widespread mode of transmission of the virus.
I believe that educating people and removing the stigma is the best preventive measure against hateful remarks online from ever happening again. Not only will it help the country in its goal of lessening HIV prevalence; it will also help persons living with HIV to seek out help without fear of discrimination. Again, as they say, prevention is better than cure.
Disclaimer: The views represented in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of AIDS Society of the Philippines, Inc.