Updated: Oct 24, 2019
Let’s talk about HIV.
If you hear someone you know is HIV positive, how would you react? And if that person is someone you care for and love, what would you do?
For so many years, our society has stigmatized people with HIV. It views an HIV-positive individual as someone who is already dying. It brands a person as someone who has an immoral lifestyle and should not be touched. It treats someone as a social outcast, leaving a person with no respect and dignity while battling a serious condition. Instead of being there for people who have contracted the disease and showing them love and support, our society chooses to shame and discriminate.
In the Philippines, more than 1,100 new cases of HIV had been recorded in March of 2019 alone. According to the Department of Health, by the end of the year, an estimated 93,400 Filipinos are living with HIV. We are also considered as “the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia and the Pacific Region with the highest percent increase of 133% of new HIV infections between 2010 and 2016” (UNAIDS).
"We are afraid of the things we don’t know and we fear what we don’t understand."
This fear is not only experienced by the people who are directly affected by HIV but also the people who isn’t and has little to no knowledge about the disease. It could threaten a person’s security thus making them react negatively to the negative feelings surrounding the uncertainties.
I personally knew people who tested positive for HIV and did not get treatment afterwards because they didn’t know help is available - people who gave up on life not knowing there is still hope.
I also knew people who decided not to get tested at all because of the fear of not being accepted by the people around them if they discovered they were positive. There are friends who lost their loved ones and only found out a little too late that it was HIV that took their precious lives. I have heard several heartbreaking stories of people who succumbed to the illness without letting their family nor their friends know their status because of fear of being rejected or humiliated.
These are lives lost because of the stigma and lack of awareness in our society.
There are several misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS and that is why it is important to start a discussion on this pressing issue.
HIV and AIDS
HIV stands for ‘human immunodeficiency virus’. According to hiv.gov, it is “a virus that attacks cells that help our body fight infections, making a person vulnerable to other infections and diseases”. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acute immune deficiency syndrome) which is the late stage of HIV when a person’s immune system is severely compromised, letting opportunistic infections take advantage of the bodies weakened defenses.
While it is true that HIV is a life-threatening disease, there is still hope. We can all still hope for HIV-positive people to live long, normal and healthy lives. We are lucky enough to live in this day and age where safe and effective drugs are readily available for people who need them. There may not be a cure for now but treatments exist and their goal is to keep viral load levels undetectable which simply means that by taking the prescribed HIV medicines, the amount of HIV in the blood will be too low to be detected. In this way, there will be no risk of transmitting the virus to other people.
· HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids including blood, semen, vaginal/rectal fluid and breast milk (not through air, water or casual contact)
· Having HIV doesn’t necessarily mean it will develop into AIDS because,
· HIV can be controlled and a person who undergoes treatment can have the same life expectancy as someone who has not contracted the virus
· You cannot get HIV from kissing, mutual masturbation, food and drink utensils, toilet seats, sharing towels, infected insects or animals, through sweat, tears, urine or feces
· Condoms and PrEp used correctly and consistently protect you from HIV transmission during sex
WHAT YOU CAN DO
GET TESTED TODAY
Knowing your status puts you in the best position to protect your health and that of your sexual partner. Getting tested lessens the chance of passing the virus to other people. Here in the Philippines, you have the option to get tested for HIV in hospitals (St. Lukes, San Lazaro Hospital, Makati Medical Center, Medical City, RITM) or through volunteer groups that offer free tests. There are also progressive religious institutions, which support the LGBT community, that conduct free tests. HIV testing kits are also available.
START AND STAY ON TREATMENT
If you are tested positive in your initial result, you may get confirmatory tests and treatment from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. You can also avail free treatments being offered by HIV treatment facilities designated by the Department of Health. Know the options that work for you and start maintaining a healthier lifestyle. The goal is to be undetectable. The treatment works and it could help you live longer with better quality of life.
PRACTICE SAFER SEX
HIV can be prevented. Limit your sexual partners and use condom every damn time. You can also talk to a healthcare expert regarding PrEp (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to lower the chances of transmission.
BE MORE COMPASSIONATE
In some cases, HIV positive people don’t get tested and unknowingly transmits the disease to other people because of fear of being discriminated. They tend to isolate themselves if they don’t feel supported. HIV-positive people should be surrounded with loved ones, people who care about them and their well-being and people whom they can trust. If someone you know confided their status to you, be a decent person by not sharing this personal and private information to other people. A broken trust is the last thing they need. Listen to your loved one and offer your support. Let them know that the virus will not define who they are.
EDUCATE YO’ SELF
Learn about the facts and familiarize yourself on HIV. This way, you’ll know what to do and what not do. This is also a way of supporting a loved one who has contracted the disease.
Whenever and wherever you can.
One of the biggest problems faced by HIV positive people is the stigma. So how can we break this? Let’s go back to the start.
FREE HIV TESTING SITES:
LOVEYOURSELF ANGLO HUB Unit 5, 3/F, Anglo Building, #715-A Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City Contact: +63 9778152444
Wednesday to Saturday, 12PM – 7PM
Sunday, 9AM – 2PM
SAN LAZARO HOSPITAL
Quiricada Street, Sta. Cruz Manila, Metro Manila
Monday to Friday, 8AM – 5PM
CEBU SOCIAL HYGIENE CLINIC
General Maxilom Extension, Cebu City
Monday to Friday, 8AM – 5PM
Sources: healthline.com, hiv.gov, poz.com, cdc.gov, doh.gov.ph