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 email@example.com; or call (+63) 9287854244, (+63) 9157972229 and (+632) 536-7886.
With approximately 30 Filipinos getting infected with HIV every day, and with more than 80% of them men who have sex with men (MSM) including gay and bisexual men, HIV is – without a doubt – one of the biggest issues affecting the LGBT community in the Philippines. But while the issue is frequently raised (e.g. even former versions of the anti-discrimination bill eyed to protect people living with HIV/PLHIVs), for 32-year-old Moses Myro Ayuha, “visibility cannot be equated with (actually) understanding the HIV issue, particularly PLHIVs.” This is because – for him – tokenistic representation is rife; and with that, “the abuse of the real issues of those infected and affected by HIV.”
Ayuha tested HIV-positive over eight years ago. Formerly involved in the sex industry for two years, he remembered “getting so sick,” he said. “I had severe diarrhea, had pneumonia, my senses seemingly vanished (I couldn’t taste the food I was eating, I couldn’t see colors, et cetera), I was losing so much weight…”
His friends told him to get himself tested, but Ayuha “refused to listen to them.” He was earning up to P15,000 a week, so he thought he was living a good life.
Eventually, though, when being sick became more intolerable than just getting tested, “I faced my own demons and got tested.”
When he was told he has HIV (his CD4 count was 55), “my first thought was, ‘Am I gonna die?’”
Ayuha told his family (in Japan), and – sadly – they told him: “Mag-Harakiri ka na; kung magpapakamatay ka, mas hahanga pa kami sa iyo (Kill yourself; if you do, we’d admire you more).”
He was in the hospital when he encountered people from The Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI). This organization for PLHIVs eventually became “home” for Ayuha, since it provided him accommodation and, eventually, employment. This is important for Ayuha because, “until now, I don’t speak to my biological family,” he said, proving that at times, one is not born into a family, but one forms one.
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.
Ayuha believes that – when discussing LGBT Pride as a whole – “HIV should not be relegated as an afterthought, but as an important issue affecting our community greatly,” he said.
Ayuha is aware, for one, of “profiteering happening in the HIV community”, and for him, this is sad because “people who are really affected by it continue not to receive the support that’s supposed to go to them.” But for him, this also highlights how “underrated pa rin ang usaping ito (this issues continues to be underrated).”
As a peer educator, Ayuha now tries to educate people on HIV; while also encouraging people to get themselves tested. He knows on a firsthand basis how debilitating HIV can be “if left unattended,” he said. But he knows, too, “we can deal with it.”
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.