Thursday, February 18, 2010

Making a positive change in another person’s life

[Original images @]

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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Situation of the HIV & AIDS Epidemic in the Philippines - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions:
Situation of the HIV & AIDS Epidemic in the Philippines
Source: PNAC (Philippine National Aids Council) Feb 2010

The DOH-NEC noted 4,424 HIV positive cases in the country since the first documented case in 1984 to the end of 2009. For 2009 alone, there were 832 HIV positive cases recorded in the Philippine National AIDS Registry. To date, an average of about two (2) new HIV cases are reported per day in the Philippines. The Health Department warns that this number only represents the tip of the iceberg from the actual number of cases since some may be unaware of their status or some are still not reporting their infection due to the stigma attached to the disease.

Who in the population are most affected?
Anyone who engages in behaviors, such as:
1.having multiple sex partners;
2.practice of unprotected penetrative sex (Vaginal, Anal or Oral) without the use of a condom; and,
3.injecting drug use and sharing injecting equipment
are considered most-at-risk and has the highest possibility to contract the disease.

Specifically, population groups who are considered most-at-risk are:
1.people in prostitution and their clients;
2.injecting drug users;
3.males having unprotected sex with other males; and,
4.people who are practicing unprotected sex and peculiar sexual practices such as anal sex.
On the other hand, several segments of the populations are considered vulnerable due to the nature of their work and exposure to several unique environments. These are OFWs and young people.

Should the Filipinos be alarmed with this situation?
Yes, the number of cases doubled in about two years. From one (1) new case reported every day in 2007 to two (2) new cases per day in 2009. It is also increasing in parallel to urbanizing communities.

How has the Government addressed the Situation?
1.Emphasize targeted prevention practices (information campaign, safer skills like negotiation skill, access to commodities and services, vulnerability reduction and empowerment)
2.Focus on most at RISK populations (esp. freelance Female Sex Workers and Men having Sex with Men and Person Who Injects Drug)
3.Partner with LGUs develop their local response on STI, HIV and AIDS through the provision of technical assistance
4.Prioritise intervention actions in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao
5.Inform high level PNAC members to formulate appropriate action
6.Formulation of a PNAC Communication and Advocacy Plan
7.Intensify partnership with NGOs and LGUs
8.Conduct a geographic mapping to determine most at risk and vulnerable areas for STI and HIV in the Country

Since 1988, a multi-sectoral approach to HIV and AIDS has been the main mechanism of the country. This means that a systematic interaction between several sectors of the society (including local and international stakeholders – from the line agencies of the government, the civil society, the academe, faith-based groups, and specific sectors of labor, the community of HIV positives, and the international community) are moving to target the multi-faceted concerns of HIV and AIDS prevention and control.

Republic Act 8504 or the AIDS law reinforced this mechanism and formalized these engagements by setting-up structures as part of the national response to HIV and AIDS. Work is continuous at various levels and targeted at specific beneficiaries.

Who else should be involved in addressing the HIV Epidemic?
Intensifying the campaign at various levels of collaboration can help significantly in reinforcing education of the people about prevention and control measures. On the program and services-delivery side, both the national and local government and specific sectors of the Philippine society have mandated duties to fulfill in order to halt and reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS in the country. More importantly, individual responsibility over their health is the most important.

What should Filipinos do in face of this epidemic?
HIV and AIDS is considered as a global pandemic and its impact is both a biomedical as well as a social issue in the country and worldwide. This alarm should be transformed to behavior change and accountability of one’s actions – taking charge of our own sexual health is required from all of us.

Each should take an active part by accessing reliable information from valid sources – such as members of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) and advocacy and services groups in this line. Becoming more self-aware and responsible in terms of handling sexual relations are also vital to ensure a protected population. The role of family and parental guidance with strong Filipino virtues/values are significant prevention efforts starting from home.

What is the HIV test? How could one avail of the test?
HIV can be detected through the HIV Antibody test - an indirect test measures the response of one’s body to the presence of HIV. This test is given for free in government health service delivery units. There are also private initiatives supporting this line of advocacy.

By Law (R.A. 8504), HIV TESTING IS VOLUNTARY, CONFIDENTIAL AND ANONYMOUS. The test requires pre and post-test counseling. A test may yield negative during the first three (3)- six (6) month after the infection due to the phase of HIV infection where the body has not produced adequate anti-body against the virus to be detected by such test. To this end, anyone who underwent HIV testing must repeat the test after six (6) months. During this period, the person must refrain from practicing any risky behaviours.

There is NO vaccine and NO cure for HIV. Anti-retroviral medication (ARVs) may only slow down the replication of the virus.

Who should be tested for HIV?
Anyone may submit for HIV testing, particularly those who engage in behaviors, such as:
1.Having multiple sex partners;
2.Practice of unprotected penetrative sex (vaginal, anal or oral) without the use of a condom; and/or
3.Injecting drug use and sharing injecting equipment.

What will happen to people who find out they're HIV positive?
An HIV positive individual must take cooperate with support groups and service providers to ensure that his/her health and immediate family and community are well-protected from complications and mitigate the disease’ impact in his/her life. Person Living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV) must seek assistance from designated health facilities and support groups who can assist the individual and his/her family copes with the disease. The overarching goal of the national response is to aid the PLHIVs continue on with their lives as normal as possible, still be productive, and not to be discriminated against in Philippine society.

Where should people go for more information on HIV and AIDS?
They can access local information online via; Department of Health, members of PNAC, and support groups and advocates nationwide. They can also call the following numbers for support and related information:

-San Lazaro Hospital 743 3776 – 8 loc 212
-STI and AIDS Cooperative Laboratory (SACCL) 309 9528 – 9 loc 206
-PNAC Secretariat 743 8512
-Department of Health- National STI,HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Program (NASPCP)
743 8301locals 2350 – 2352

Or the nearest Social Hygiene Clinics, Treatment Hubs, and Information and Counseling Centers by government and civil society organizations.

How could mass media help in addressing the HIV epidemic?
Dissemination of accurate information is vital for the success of the campaign, to demystify the myths and to fight spread of stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV. Behavior change can also be achieved by educating the public and the specific sectors of society and enabling them to take charge of their own health. Collaboration with the specific service delivery units is also vital for the success of the prevention and control program.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Heart Full of Love

I am checked in Citystate Hotel in Malate Manila by my self, earlier than the other participants. I am covering a basic councelling workshop tomorrow. I had this time for myself to contemplate of what I have been doing with my life. While reflecting, it dawned to me that I would not been able to do what I have done if not for my very loving and supportive family by my side. So I decided to send my Mom a text messaged saying good night and I love you.

Not a second passed and my mobile phone rang. It’s my mom. The first thing she told me was that my dad was hoping I’d talk to him, she said he misses me. I need not ask as I have a strong instinct that they saw me on prime time news taking about my self and HIV.

I wanted to explain but she did not give me a chance to talk and continued to talk about how proud she was of me. She wants me to know that they think I am doing the right thing. She emphasized that what I did was a brave thing and that I am able to help make others understand what I am and the other Pozes are going through.

Mom told me that she is so proud that I did not resort to hiding my situation. She said that it’s only right to come out so that I could be a good example to others. She said that there is no reason for me to be afraid in admitting my HIV status. She even told me that she can talk in public and even go on national television with her testimonies as a mother with a Poz son.

When I got the chance to talk, I could not say anything but words of gratitude. I added that my brother, sisters and friends contacted me and gave their love and support as well.

I am overwhelmed by the love and support my mother and my family is giving me. As a compassionate mother, she did not forgot to remind me that by coming out, I am holding a big responsibility, not only to my self but towards others as well.

I could not agree more to what my mother just said. I also could not hold back my tears while I thank her for being such a loving and supportive mother.

Before I put down the phone, I wiped the tears streaming from my eyes and said I love you and expressed my gratitude to her.

I love you mom and I promise that, despite all the time I’ve wasted doing selfish acts, I will make you, dad, and the rest of the family proud of me.

Since I came out on TV (which I thought was stupid when the network did not show my entire face) I have been receiving supportive and loving words from friends and family, people from my previous job and people I have not even met. I want to thank all of you for the insurmountable understanding, support and love you have shown me and other people living with HIV.

I always believed that the world is ready to take me in… to take all of “us” in. All it takes is acceptance and a heart full of love.