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A long way to go

Despite supposedly existing mechanisms to ensure that the rights of Filipinos living with HIV are protected, not many actually know of these mechanisms. This is why violations continue to happen; and this is why something needs to be done about this the soonest possible.

There is a big, BIG disconnect.

“That hospital – considering it’s a tertiary hospital, at that – should have a system when dealing with such cases.” This is what a doctor – who is also my friend, and a fellow HIV and AIDS advocate – said to me when I told her about the HIV-related experience of differently-abled people I know in this hospital in Pasig City.  It was something I hoped she could help with. Instead, she told me that “it’s hard to believe this story that you’re telling me happened (particularly because) I know the people (running that facility), and they know – should know – how to properly handle (such a situation).”

But what happened, happened.

A patient, after checking himself in because he was incessantly coughing, was eventually found to be HIV-positive.  He was by then too sick, so he had to be admitted. Starting the time he was confined, the harrowing experienced instances noted were numerous, and NOT just as faced by the patient himself but also by other people in his life.

Upon getting admitted, among the experiences cited were:

  • Disclosure of his status to others (initially to members of his family, sans the consent of the seropositive person; and then to those who visited him at the hospital);
  • Placement of a tag/marker on his bed, citing (and basically broadcasting) his seropositive status;
  • Absence of referral system (it was, in fact, a common gay friend who told me of the situation, asking for my help on what can be done since “no one knows what to do,” this common friend of ours said).

Yes, disclosure without the consent of the person involved is illegal – and this includes the “tagging” of a patient as HIV-positive. And yes, there is usual “approach” supposed to be followed when someone tests positive. It is, after all, already 2012 – when most Western countries are already pushing for the finding of a cure for HIV. Years and years since we have supposedly been enlightened already, freed from misconceptions about HIV and AIDS (supposedly, misconceptions are so 1980s).

And when the seropositive person passed away, the bad experiences continued. Again as told, among the experiences cited were:

  • Difficulty in finding a funeral parlor that will accept the body, with information about his serostatus (apparently) spreading, making many unwilling to offer their services;
  • Immediate removal of the body (“He was immediately wrapped in plastic, and then was just whisked away,” another common friend, a transgender, said, adding that the family was told that “it’s best this way as infection could still occur”) for immediate cremation (supposedly to “make sure we get rid of the virus”);
  • The late HIV-positive person’s friends being “pressured” (the word used by the common gay friend) to take the HIV antibody test (discouraging many to identify as a friend of the deceased).

As a problem, this is actually NOT rare. When the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held the National Dialogue on HIV and Human Rights in July 2012, a participant from Davao City noted the lack of information on the available services for people living with HIV (PLHIV), as well as the people they leave behind when they pass away. Specifically, they had a member who died from AIDS-related complications, and yet “we remain unaware about available treatment, care and support (TCS) services; (as well as) of the burial rights of PLHIV,” he quipped.

In response to this, a representative from the Department of Health (DOH) said that the government body is strengthening its efforts for the PLHIV community to enroll in PhilHealth for them to avail of TCS (a move necessary with the end of the funding of the Global Fund for the country’s HIV-related endeavors). Interestingly, the representative similarly said that there actually already exists a referral system (through the Department of Social Welfare and Development or DSWD, for instance) developed so that they can get the support needed.

That “mechanisms already exist” was similarly stressed earlier in the day of that same dialogue. Discussing redress mechanisms on HIV-related human rights violations, Hon. Leah Armamento, Undersecretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ), noted the presence of national laws that guarantee the rights of vulnerable groups. As members of a vulnerable group, Filipino PLHIV supposedly actually also have other rights on top of those guaranteed by the Constitution. These include the rights to: freedom from discrimination, freedom from mandatory/compulsory testing, right to confidential medical records, right to pre- and post-test counseling, right to decent burial, and right to insurance.

And so the disconnect is emphasized.

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A disconnect that will persist for as long as not many among those supposed to be served actually know of the existence of these services.

A disconnect that will continue to be – sadly – lived by many unless something is done. Now na.

*Outrage Magazine has formed partnerships with similar-minded organizations to attempt to remedy some of the issues raised here. If interested about these partnerships, email editor@outragemag.com or send SMS/call (+63) 9287854244.

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