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A voice for older Filipinos living with HIV through Positive Elders Philippines Inc.

In the Philippines, among the newly diagnosed HIV cases in March 2023, “only” 2% were 50 years and older. And with HIV continuing to greatly affect younger people, emphasis continues to be given to this population. Suffice to say, there is an absence of services geared for the elderly who have HIV.

Photo by Tim Marshall from Unsplash.com

FACT: The number of older people living with HIV is increasing.

There are two reasons that – generally speaking – may explain this.

  1. There are now better HIV medicines (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), and this is helping people with HIV (PLHIVs) live longer, healthier lives. This means that even if people may have tested HIV-positive when they were still young(er), effective HIV medicines help them live to ripe ages.
  2. More older people are getting tested for HIV, so that – obviously – the “real” HIV status of more of them become known. In the US alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2018, over half of the people diagnosed with HIV were aged 50 and older.

Here’s the thing, though: In the Philippines, among the newly diagnosed cases in March 2023, “only” 2% were 50 years and older, with 48% belonging to the 25-34 age group, 31% were 15-24 years old, and 19% were 35-49 years old. And with HIV continuing to greatly affect younger people, emphasis continues to be given to this population.

Suffice to say, there is an absence of services geared for the elderly who have HIV, said Gem A. Cabreros, who lamented the lack of initiatives to “empower elderly PLHIVs… and thereby improve their well-being and quality of life.”

This is what led to the formation of Positive Elders Philippines Inc.

The goal, Cabreros said, is – generally – to better the current HIV responses for these to be more inclusive of older PLHIVs. And for the newly-formed organizatoon, this can be done in three ways, i.e.: by providing special care and attention for elderly PLHIVs who have ageing-related health issues and challenges; making it easier to access medicines for comorbidities, and inexpensive or free laboratory tests; and giving them a platform to be heard by those in governments and organizations involved in the HIV response in the country, thereby ensuring that programs or policies can be made to also address their concerns and needs.

As a new organization, Positive Elders Philippines Inc. is facing challenges – e.g. “We don’t have funds to implement projects and activities, even give communication allowance to members whenever we have online meetings,” Cabreros said. Though, eventually, this is hoped to change.

There are “dreams”, Cabreros said – e.g. “A long-term plan is the establishment of a shelter for solo, displaced, and elderly PLHIVs disowned by their families.”

But staying grounded, Positive Elders Philippines Inc. is – for now – focusing on strengthening the organization by growing its membership, doing research to ascertain the actual needs of this specific population, and yes, developing strategic projects and activities to benefit older PLHIVs.

In the end, Cabreros stressed, “we need to be included in all HIV-related efforts because we’re just as affected by it… perhaps even more so as we navigate living with HIV even as we age. And here, having Positive Elders Philippines Inc. is a step in the right direction.”

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PLHIVs who are 50 years old or older may join Positive Elders Philippines Inc. by sending a message on Messenger (Gem A. Cabreros), or sending an email to positiveeldersph@gmail.com. A vetting process will follow before a person can be included in the GC and in the organization.

Cagayan de Oro City-based Stephen Christian Quilacio may be known as a party-goer (and yes, there's nothing wrong with that!). But this Bachelor of Architecture grad is serious when it comes to LGBTQIA and HIV advocacies - e.g. he founded Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA) to mainstream the issues of people living with HIV in Mindanao; and produced "Lima" and eventually "Red Lives" via community theater to share HIV-centric stories particularly to grassroots community. Pushing for fringe communities to no longer be excluded is what drives Stephen; and "if this can be done in a fun way, so much the better," he smiled.

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