People living with HIV (PLHIVs) do not play hide and seek. They hide not to be sought. They hide because of fear of rejection, discrimination – of people saying into their faces that they are dirty, promiscuous or a plague. These bar them to go and speak out. To think that there are not many issues surrounding PLHIVs in this country mainly because they are not heard raising their voices is just plain ignorance.
As one who works in the civil society via a non-government organization, I think that one of my roles is to raise the voices of those who cannot because of fear, or lack of confidence, or simply because they are not out. I support them in their endeavors because, as a man who has sex with men, I know their struggles, what they go through. Nevertheless, I have to respect their decision not to go out, even as I value their trust in me to bring their concerns to the ears of the authorities and the capacitated people to affect some change.
I feel the responsibility to listen to their stories and document them for the data gatherers to collect. I listened to the stories of PLHIVs in Davao City and General Santos City not accessing treatment because they do not have the financial capacity to do so. Personally, I know of PLHIVs in Mindanao who died because they discontinued ARV or they were not able to access ARVs at all. Why? Because at that time last year in Mindanao, there was only one treatment hub in that part of Mindanao, and – considering they came from a different locality – they had nothing to spend to travel and therefore access their medications. They died of opportunistic infections.
I am pretty sure that this is not only happening in the southern part of the Philippines, that part which is often, if not constantly and repeatedly, forgotten and overlooked, but also in bigger parts of Asia where poor countries are unfortunately placed.
More disheartening, there are a number of LGBT and/or HIV and AIDS organizations in Mindanao – such as Mindanao Association of AIDS Advocates Inc (MAAAI), Social Health of Inter-Ethnic Networks for Empowerment (SHINE), LadLad Caraga, and Mariposa de Zamboanga, to name a few – that can do more to address these perennial battles of PLHIVs but do not have the technical and financial capacities to do so. The data they gathered (if at all) are mostly not included in supposed big bodies of works; or, I don’t know, maybe they were lost, forgotten or excluded, or at times used by others as their own.
I felt these people.
I saw some of them die.
There is a problem.
Don’t dare tell me there is no problem.