This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or call (+63) 9287854244, (+63) 9157972229 and (+632) 536-7886.
Twenty-year-old Aldrin Ng – a Muslim who was originally from Zamboanga – was 18 when he tested HIV-positive. “After high school, I worked in the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry,” he recalled. “After six months, may pumunta sa amin from Makati social hygiene clinic (SHC) para mag-conduct ng free HIV testing (After six months of working for the BPO company, someone from Katai SHC went to our office to conduct HIV testing).”
Aldrin got himself tested as “katuwaan (just for fun).”
But then he noted that “sila lahat, may resulta na. Ako, wala pa. Nagtaka ako (the others already got their results; I didn’t. I was wondering). And then they approached me to tell me that they’ll extract blood from me to send to the Department of Health. The result will be released after a month; I was supposed to go to SHC to get the result.”
Aldrin said that deep within, he sort of knew something was up, particularly since “alam ko naman behaviors ko (I knew my behaviors). I had unsafe sexual practices. Mapusok (aggressive) and sexually curious.”
Two weeks after the test done by the person from the SHC, Aldrin had “severe diarrhea, fever, cold sweats, skin discoloration, incessant coughing, “at kung ano pa (and so many others),” he said. “Di ko maintindihan (I couldn’t understand what was happening to my body).”
Though his mom (a pharmacist) initially gave him medicines, eventually, he had to go to a hospital. There, he disclosed to the attending physician what the SHC worker told him, so that he was confined. The diagnosis: pneumonia. The physician then told Adrin to get his confirmatory test from the SHC and then just return to him for follow-up.
True enough, when it was time for Aldrin to get his confirmatory test result, he tested HIV positive.
“Na-windang ako (I was in a state of shock) after seeing the result,” he said. The counselor “kept talking; di ko na ma-remember what she was saying. I wanted to cry, pero walang luhang lumalabas (but no tears would come).”.
Aldrin immediately told his mom when he got home.
“I asked her, ‘Ma, mahal mo ba ako (do you still love me)? She said, ‘Anong klaseng tanong yan (What kind of question is that)? Then she got teary eyed. She cried. Then she hugged me. That was when I finally cried,” Aldrin said.
Aldrin sought treatment immediately (in December 2015). “I had my baseline tests; my first CD4 count was 345. I had TB meds (due to pneumonia). And after two weeks, I already started my ART.”
But at that time, they were living with an ex-military stepfather who Aldrin wasn’t close to, and even asked for him to be kicked out. This forced his mom to decide to leave Metro Manila to go back to Zamboanga in September 2016.
Back in Zamboanga, they had to stay with their Muslim family.
Sans disclosure, “initially, they were okay because – to start – I was healthy,” Aldrin said. “But when I started getting sick, hindi na (things changed).”
They all lived in the same compound, and “nakikita nila na nangangayayat na ako, dumumi na ang balat ko (they saw me getting sicklier, and my skin was starting to discolor),” he said. “Many asked: ‘May sakit ka ba (Are you sick)?'”
Aldrin got depressed, particularly since his condition already depleted his savings and he had to start relying on those who he knew looked down on him.
It also didn’t help that – in his experience – the local treatment hub was incapable of looking after him, e.g. he had STI but those who were there were allegedly incapable of even detecting it, much more treating it.
“I got depressed. At my lowest, I weighed only 45 kilos.”
So in March 2017, Aldrin returned to Manila.
Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI) helped him.
PAFPI was established in September 1998 after members of the HIV community noted the lack of treatment, care and support (TCS) services in the country. The organization aimed to contribute to the national responses not only in advocacy to prevent the spread of HIV, but also in the provision of TCS for people living with HIV (PLHIV), as well as their affected families/loved ones.
Among others, PAFPI gives HIV 101 seminars/workshops (e.g. to youth and overseas Filipino workers and their families); provides temporary housing to people living with HIV (PLHIV), particularly those who were kicked out of their homes due to their HIV status; and extends support in accessing treatment, care and support (TCS) services.
He had another “lapse”, when he returned to Zamboanga. He even found a lover, a military guy, who knew about his HIV status. But when they both got sick, the man got paranoid and he left Aldrin, so that he was depressed again.
With his life in Zamboanga, “my mom is the only link now.”
Establishing a renewed life in Manila, he now works as the chat manager and a volunteer for PAFPI.
Aldrin said that he learned the importance of acceptance. “Paano ako matatanggap ng karamihan kung mismong sa pamilya ko na-di-discriminate ako? Dapat magsimula sa pamilya ang acceptance (How can others accept you if your own family discriminates against you? Acceptance should start from the family),” he said.
Recognizing, of course, that there are families who discriminate, Aldrin said that this is where self-acceptance needs to be stressed. “This strengthens you,” he said. “A big issue for PLHIVs is depression. You need to know how to overcome this. And here, self-acceptance is important.”
For people infected or affected by HIV and who are in need of help to access treatment, care and support, contact Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. at 2613-2615 Dian St., Malate, City of Manila; or call (+632) 404-2911 or 528-4531.