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I was confirmed HIV positive last January 2008. I thought living with HIV was the worst thing that could happen to me. I was mistaken. It is living with HIV, not knowing that I have it, and not being equipped with the right information is much worse.
Part of the process of finding out your HIV status is Voluntary Counseling and Testing or commonly referred to as VCT. As a rule, VCT require two counseling sessions: A “pre-testing counseling” is conducted before taking the HIV test and a “post-test counseling”, regardless of the outcome, is done after the HIV test results has been given. These counseling focuses mainly on the medical aspects of HIV and AIDS, the tests and positive behavior change.
I was one of the unfortunate who did not receive counseling when tested for HIV. Otherwise it would have been easy for me to come to term with my situation. I was referred to, and was tested in a small private clinic in Manila, which did not seem to have the capacity to conduct the required counseling. I did not know the importance and the need for a counseling until I was referred by a friend to an infectious disease specialist in The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and met people from AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP), who unconditionally accepted me when I expressed my intentions to engage in their advocacy.
With ASP’s guidance, I got involved with VCT workshops and other activities as a community representative doing testimonials and as a resource speaker providing basic information about HIV and how it is like to be a person living with the dreaded virus. My involvement gave me a deeper perspective and understanding of the importance of counseling and how it effectively helps in eliminating stigma and discrimination.
I recall in one of the VCT workshops I’ve attended, where most of the participants were doctors and health workers, a female participant approached me after I came out with my HIV status and gave shared my story. She asked how a normal looking guy, like me, be a person living with HIV. I was humbled by her comments and realized that regardless of a one’s educational background, profession and stature in life, a person’s appearance, at some point, is still being used as a basis in judging a person’s HIV status. Nevertheless, I felt assured that her participation in the VCT workshop will help give her a renewed perception towards people like me.
As I gain further understanding in the importance of counseling, in providing guidance to people getting tested for HIV and in the efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination, by involving my self in activities such as VCT workshops, I am confident that the workshop participants also gained the same awareness. This is one of the reasons why I have devoted my self in educational advocacy towards helping people understand HIV and how they can protect themselves and the people around them.
We are all connected in ways we can only imagine. One person’s actions and decisions affect another person’s quality of life. Therefore, activities such as Voluntary Counseling and Testing workshop is one of the effective means of empowering people involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS to make a positive change in other people’s lives. This also help eliminate stigma and discrimination that will aid in making our nation a safe, healthy and a better place to live in for People Living With HIV and AIDS, their families and friends.