I am chatting with a person whose HIV rapid test only recently showed he’s reactive. He was told by this satellite clinic in Mandaluyong City that he can actually proceed to get the meds; though only if:
- He pays his PhilHealth; and
- He pays for all his lab tests.
The problem is, this young person – who did not even finish schooling – is unemployed.
So he is chatting with me now to “manghiram ng P100 (borrow a hundred pesos) so I can go to a client who will give me P1,000; which I can then use to pay for my lab tests.”
Yes, he is resorting to selling himself. To access life-saving medicine that is supposedly – and ERRONEOUSLY claimed to be – “free”.
It is cases like this young person’s that make it infuriating that the Department of Health (DOH) saw it fit to allocate lots of money to… HOLD A BEAUTY PAGEANT.
In a pageant-obsessed country like the Philippines, at least superficially, this seems like an “intelligent” move.
But from the get-go, this approach needs to be closely looked at and reconsidered.
- The pageant is supposed to create “HIV advocates”. BUT only those who fit specific qualifications can enter – e.g. age limit, height limit, vital stats requirement of participants (with the candidates even told to ‘model’ in swimwear as part of the screening process). So now – with this ‘move’ – what is being insinuated is that you need to be young, beautiful/handsome and be willing to strut in your bikini first before you can be considered an HIV ‘advocate’…
- We are supposed to dismantle this lookist society; to recognize people’s worth NOT based solely on how they look. Pageants – by their very nature – promote the status quo (of lookism) by giving “positions of power” only to those who “fit” socially-constructed standards of beauty and attractiveness.
- The country has a lot of REAL advocates who do for free what should be DOH’s job – e.g. community-based HIV screeners who go from barangay to barangay without any payment. There are those doing community-based HIV screening (CBS) who are RUNNING OUT OF RAPID TEST KITS, so they are now unable to serve; unable to be advocates. Seriously now, if there’s money for a beauty pageant, surely there’s money that can be given to those already working on the ground, or even to buy life-saving paraphernalia used in battling HIV in the Philippines.
- One of the supporters of this beauty pageant told me that Pia Wurtzbach’s effort to bring the spotlight to HIV is a good example of the “relevance” of a beauty pageant like this, as it could “create another Pia”. In a marketing standpoint, this is not a well-thought response; mainly because if you wanted to “create” someone to be like Pia to promote HIV awareness in the Philippines, then… JUST HIRE PIA HERSELF!
Besides, as a friend aptly said: You can’t just “create” a Pia. She “works” because she’s unique.
- If you need a crown, a title and the prize money before you start advocating for HIV-related issues in the Philippines, then you’re not really an “advocate” and what you’re doing is not “advocacy”.
The fact is, numerous HIV-related issues continue to plague the country.
We get 31 new cases every day now.
A growing number of those getting infected are getting younger and younger (e.g. in July, 28% were from the 15-24 age bracket).
The ARVs in treatment hubs are OLD – e.g. many have expired, and the Philippines still uses meds already discontinued in Western countries. Don’t get me started with the shortage that the DOH continues to deny is happening.
We still don’t have widely-distributed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Newly-diagnosed PLHIVs – like that young person at the start of this article – are still unable to pay for their baseline tests; and so they can’t proceed to the next steps (including starting their ARV therapy). And even if they can get the lab tests done, their ARV supply is compromised because they can’t pay their PhilHealth.
There are treatment hubs that do not have viral load machines, so that PLHIVs do not know their VL years and years after they tested HIV-positive. And this is even if they have been paying the same PhilHealth amount that should give them that VL test. DOH accredited these hubs; they need to monitor if the hubs comply with policies related to their accreditation.
There are accredited hubs that do not even offer CD4 test. This is accepted as “normal”, and again, this is even if the PLHIVs in these hubs still pay the same PhilHealth amount that should grant them the CD4 test. Similar to the above: DOH accredited these hubs; they need to monitor if the hubs comply with policies related to their accreditation.
There remains lack of updated knowledge even among existing service providers – e.g. try asking them about U=U, and you’re more likely to encounter internalized stigma and discrimination, largely because… this is not even openly discussed in the Philippines, including by DOH.
There are no Filipino Sign Language interpreters who can assist Deaf Filipinos to get tested for HIV; and – if they test HIV-positive – access treatment, care and support.
I can go on and on and on…
But just try bringing these issues up (e.g. to government people or NGOs) and you’d more likely be told “there’s no money”.
Well… apparently there is money; just not for these…
DOH is complaining about the pending budget cut, but – the way I see it – it shouldn’t/can’t/ought not to complain about any budget cuts when it can spend money ON A BEAUTY PAGEANT. This may sound harsh, but words that immediately come at least to my mind include misuse, squandering (with a friend going as far as using the word “misappropriation”) or words similar to that…
As it is – and yes, I recognize this – I’ve already been repeatedly told that I’m too… negative.
I’m not sure I’m being “negative”; instead, I am being more “realistic”.
And the thing is, as long there are PLHIVs like that young person who has to prostitute himself just so he can access life-saving meds and services even as a big amount of money is spent on a beauty pageant, I say we all should be…