Act up! Fight back! Fight AIDS! These were the words chanted by a community of people united in the cause to fight for their right to be given treatment against AIDS. They struggled against oppression, discrimination, and above all, the continuous decimation of a people by an epidemic that was misunderstood but continued to expand. This was New York City in the ‘80s.
Thirty years later, with Facebook, decades of AIDS research, a tighter-knit international community, and a widely established anti-retroviral therapy, the Philippines is undergoing the same epidemiological patterns as the US.
The rise among men who have sex with men
Statistics show that the virus has taken hold of the demographic of men who have sex with men. In the government’s HIV registry for January 2013, there were 380 people registered as newly diagnosed with HIV; 93% percent were males. The most dominant form of transmission was via sex of males with other males at 82%, followed by people who inject drugs through shared needles.
The data provides two perspectives: one that shows the HIV prevention advocacy is working well because people, especially the key affected population (KAP) of males who have sex with other males (MSM) are getting themselves tested, and another that says more people are engaging in sexual activities without protection that increases their risk of exposure to HIV.
No condoms, baby
This controversial contraceptive has sparked debates for decades in the Philippines. Despite its acceptance in the international community for its benefits in HIV prevention and that of other sexually transmissible infections, as well as unplanned pregnancies, its rejection by religious groups still proliferates today. One fact in all of this is not using condoms increases the risk of transmitting HIV.
Dr. Eric Tayag of the Department of Health previously mentioned the preference of the MSM community to perform “bareback” or anal sex without protection as one of the results of the obvious lack of correct information about the use of condoms. According to Dr. Tayag, this has driven the numbers to their consistent record highs.
We have yet to find out what the condom preference is of the heterosexual demographic in their activities in bed and what it means for the Philippines in general.
Let’s pick up the pace
The national program on HIV prevention and control is currently handled by the DOH in partnership with ASP. They provide education to the KAPs of MSM and people who inject drugs under a package of services that cover HIV 101, condoms, lubricants, and information distribution. Other efforts include online HIV education, also under ASP, and the involvement of community-based organizations under the ISEAN-HIVOS project handled by the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare (PNGOC).
Only with the passage of the Reproductive Health Law did the discussion of age-appropriate education on reproductive health take off. But as citizens, we can stand up and say to our officials that we want more. These activities, as well as more funding on HIV awareness and prevention, would potentially serve as the foundation needed to create a generation of individuals with enough information on their sexual health. Maybe then can we see more individuals who access and use condoms properly.
What you can do
Be an activist in your own way. Involve yourself by being educated and tested. Knowing how the virus works and knowing your status is the best way for you to stay healthy. Pay it forward. A way to help the HIV advocacy is by spreading the word that getting tested is vital. You can do one better by joining groups like the ASP Volunteers Circle and helping out in community outreach activities.
There are a lot of ways to help but it will always start with the individual. To stop the spread of HIV, motivation and education is the key. You can be the cure.
Use #zeroHIVph on Twitter to join the discussion