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For PLHIVs to get COVID-19 vaccine, policymakers are out of touch of grassroots realities…

A Filipino living with HIV documents the challenges he’s encountering to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante from Unsplash.com

By R12 “Xander”

Call me Xander na lang. Living with HIV since December 2012, my treatment hub (for now) is RITM-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG) Clinic in Alabang.

I wanted to tell you my experience about getting COVID-19 vaccine.

But for now, I am still stuck at the “Where’s your medical certificate?” stage. And this isn’t a problem that I, alone, am experiencing. I have been chatting with my blood brothers (aside from monitoring laments in Twitter), so I know there are others on the same boat as I am.

Una sa lahat, oo, persons living with HIV (PLHIVs) are included in Priority Group A3: adults with controlled comorbidities. This was mentioned before; and stressed again in March when the Department of Health (DOH) issued its guidelines for the vaccination of Priority Group A3.

Pero – ikalawa – bago mapapabilang sa Priority Group A3 ang PLHIV, they need to provide documents – e.g. medical certificate.

Sabi ng DOH, “to reduce barriers in vaccination, LGUs shall ensure that the systems providing for medical clearances to the appropriate A3 subgroups shall be accessible and available to all members who need to secure a medical clearance prior to vaccination.” Dito pa lang, may mali na. Kasi hindi naman ang LGUs ang magbibigay ng medical clearances kundi ang treatment hubs/facilities. Ewan kelan inutusan ni Yorme ang San Lazaro Hospital o PGH (na kapwa mga treatment facilities sa City of Manila) kung paano patakbuhin ang HIV centers nila.

Clearances are usually – though not always – issued after consultations.

Sa amin sa hub ko, walang face-to-face consultations na nagaganap. This is understandable kasi my hub continues to focus on COVID-19, as it should do. This the same thing done by other healthcare facilities now.

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In lieu of a face-to-face consultation, we have teleconsultation. As of March 25, sabi sa Facebook post ng RITM-ARG Clinic, umabot na sa 2,336 ang na-teleconsult nila; mabuhay!

Pero yung pangangalinangan ng pasyente, hindi tumitigil sa teleconsultation.

Sa usaping medical clearance, kailangan mong mag-teleconsult bago ka makakakuha ng medical certificate. There is an online registration form; though to get a slot, be sure to check at exactly 8AM. These slots fill fast, so… alam na, you get the point.

The actual teleconsultation isn’t tedious; the doctors at the other end of the line have your record, and – I know they may be tired by now – the chat remains chirpy, even uplifting. With medical professionals for siblings, I know how much of themselves these people give to be of service. And always, kudos to them.

The subsequent processes are:

  1. After teleconsultation, you wait for a link to be sent to you.
  2. When you finally get the link, click it; it will lead you to a form.
  3. You will be asked to upload documents – e.g. ID, three specimen signatures, and… get this, photo of yourself holding your ID and specimen signatures.
  4. Pay P50 for the medical certificate.
  5. Wait for days for your submissions to be considered, and then approved/rejected.

The P50 payment itself is an issue. For the entire 2020, for example, I didn’t consult with anyone from my hub. But they collected my OHAT Package from PhilHealth. So, basically, the entire amount was just used for… my ARV refills. You’d think P50 should already be covered for all hubs.

Then there’s the payment method – e.g. GCash and bank-to-bank transfer na tumatalbog, and so on. When I called my hub, I was told to “may as well go to the bank”; which – I think – defeats the very purpose of teleconsultation, which is to keep me at home so I don’t get exposed to COVID-19.

And so I remain un-vaccinated; even if I belong to Priority Group A3, and even if some local government units already started vaccinating Priority Group A4.

I was told by some that I have the “option” not to disclose my status. But:

  1. This is basically telling us to lie.
  2. Sans medical clearance, I do not know for sure if the vaccine is okay for me; it could be bad for me (and could kill me).
  3. If I do not disclose my status, then I fall under the categories that will receive the vaccines much, much, MUCH later.

As I said, I wanted to tell you about my experience about getting COVID-19 vaccine. Kung paanong ang mga tulad ko ay nabakunahan na dapat dahil ito’y kailangan namin.

But I’m not there yet.

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And seriously, I don’t know when I’d get there, if at all…

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