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 and (+63) 9157972229.
Jesusa*, 35, was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2001. This April, she jokingly said she will celebrate two birthdays.
“Mga 14 years na ako ngayong April sa aking pagkapositibo. Dalawa ‘yung sine-celebrate namin, yung birthday at yung anniversary ng naging positive (It will be my 14th year as an HIV positive person this April. I will have two celebrations – my birthday, and my anniversary for mg HIV diagnosis),” she said.
She and her husband have now moved on from the shock and grief from them being both diagnosed with HIV.
“Ngayon ay moving forward na kami dahil meron namang antiretroviral na libre mula sa Global Fund. Ine-encourage namin ang kababaihan namin na magenroll sila sa PhilHealth na ini-implement namin in partnership with the United Methodist Church Board of Women’s Work at para pang laboratory sa mga treatment hubs (We have now moved on because there is free antiretroviral medication from Global Fund. We encourage women to enroll in the government insurance which we are doing in partnership with the Board of Women’s Work of the United Methodist Church. Also for the financial support for the laboratory fees in the treatment hubs),” she said.
She expressed concern on the phasing out of Global Fund and recalled how they fought just to have generic HIV medication accessible.
“Mawawala na ang Global Fund sa Pilipinas, kaya ang sasalo ang gobyerno natin. Noon, pinursige namin na magkaroon ng generic na antiretroviral sa Pilipinas at hindi lagyan ng tax (When the Global fund moves out of the Philippines, the government will shoulder the cost for antiretrovirals. In the past, we pushed for the accessibility of generic antiretrovirals in the country and that the medication will not be taxed),” she said.
She added that there are also services in place for the prevention of mother to child transmission which her organization, Babae Plus has been an active advocate.
Life as a woman living with HIV is not easy at all. Disclosure is one of the main difficulties.
“Mahirap din sa mga babaeng living with HIV ang parte ng disclosure. Sa anak lalo nang hindi nila naiintindihan kung bakit kami na-infect. May stages din kaming pinagdaanan kaya meron kaming mga counselling sessions. Pareho din ito sa aspeto ng pag-a-asawa o pakikipag-partner (Disclosure of status us a difficulty for women living with HIV. Especially to our children who may not undertand why we got infected. We went through stages that’s why we had counselling sessions. This is also the same with marrying or having a partner),” she said.
“Ang anak ko ay first year college na. Na-disclose ko ‘yung status ko noong first year high school siya. Mahirap din ‘yung pag-initiate ng disclosure para hindi rin madistorbo ‘yung pag-aaral. Since ngayon alam na niya ang status ko, sinasabi ko sa kanya na ito ang mga issues ng kabataan na pwede mong makaharap tulad ng bullying (My child is now in first year college. I disclosed when he was in first year high school. It was difficult to initiate the disclosure because it may disturb his schooling. Now that he knows my status. I tell him on issues among his peers he may face such as bullying),” she said.
On relationships, Jesusa says it is possible for women living with HIV to form a family.
“Sa mga discussions sinasabi namin na ok naman na magkaroon kayo ng pamilya, as long as alam ng partner niyo ang status niyo. Marami naman ang tumatanggap sa mga babaeng positibo. ( In discussions, we wa say that it is OK for them to have a family, as long as their partner knows their status. Fortunately, many accept women living with HIV as partners),” she said.
Discrimination has also been a common experience among women living with HIV
“’Yung ibang kababaihan namin, nadi-discriminate pa rin ng mga families nila. Ang pamilya ang mismong nagpapaalis sa kanila. Pinapalipat muna ng bahay. Tapos ang pamilya ang nagbabayad muna ng renta at kuryente. ‘Yun pala gusto na ilayo sila sa mga kakilala (Some of our women are discriminated by their families. Their own families drive them away. They are asked to transfer residences. Then the family will initially pay the rent and electricity. In reality, they just want them away from people they know),” she said.
Apart from dealing with difficulties with people, the government’s focus on the country’s HIV response also poses challenges to them as women living with HIV.
“Sa mga recent figures ngayon ng HIV, maliit lang na bahagi ang mga kababaihan. Sa implementation ng HIV program, hindi napapansin ang women living with HIV dahil maliit nga ang porsyento. Kaya sinasabi namin, maliit sa ngayon pero hindi natin alam, baka two years from now, bumalik ang infection sa mga babaeng may partner (In the recent figures on HIV, women are only few. In the implementation of HIV programs in the country, women living with HIV are not much noticed because of our small percentage. But we say, it may be small for now but we don’t know, maybe in two years’ time, rise in infections among women with partners will return),” she said.
Jesusa affirmed that women living with HIV carry a positive message to inspire people to be more active in preventing HIV and AIDS and as well as the stigma and discrimination against those already living with the virus.
“Kaisa niyo po kami sa aspeto ng prevention. Kami na lang po. Hanggang sa amin na lang ‘yung impeksyon. Huwag niyo nang danasin ang hirap na nadaanan namin sa araw-araw na may HIV kami (We are one with you in preventing HIV. Let it end with us. The infections should stop with us. We hope that you will not experience the hardships we have gone through living with HIV everyday),” Jesusa ended.
*NAME CHANGED, AS REQUESTED, TO PROTECT THE INTERVIEWEE’S PRIVACY. JESUSA IS A MEMBER OF BABAE PLUS; SHE DELIVERED THIS TESTIMONY AT THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY CELEBRATION OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN THE PHILIPPINES IN QUEZON CITY.