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Should PLHIV come out?

Filipino advocates who are helping fight HIV in the Philippines are calling for people living with HIV to come out. But Patrick King Pascual asks if, by coming out, will the lives of PLHIV actually get better?

UP-Diliman observes World AIDS Day 2013

The figures continue to be disturbing.

As of October this year, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded a total number 4,072 HIV reported cases – 3,874 of which are males and 198 are female, and a total of 272 AIDS cases. It was also reported by DOH that 94% of the recorded HIV cases this year were infected through sexual contact, 6% through needle sharing among injecting drug users, and less than 1% through mother to child transmission. Reflecting the global trend wherein the increasing number of HIV cases is most predominant among men who have sex with other men (MSM), it was also noted by DOH that 86% of the recorded HIV cases in October were MSM.

The efforts to deal with the concerns continue to grow.

Over the years, there have been countless discussions and programs conducted by different institutions, organizations and even schools about HIV and AIDS. There have also been several events held to remind everyone of the importance of education and awareness of the disease.

However, everything seems to result to nothing, as the continuous rise in the numbers of those who are getting infected is showing us.

And now – interestingly – a new call is already being made.  During the celebration of World AIDS Day (WAD) observance at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City last December 1, the message pushed was loud and clear: “People living with HIV (PLHIV) should come out so that people will know that there is nothing wrong with being HIV positive.”

And some PLHIV heed the call.

“We are not celebrating WAD to be stigmatized and be discriminated against.  What we are trying to aim is to let other people know that HIV should not be feared,” Artemus Rojado, an HIV-positive advocate, said.  “Sometimes, PLHIV are more productive than ‘ordinary’ people. We want to bridge the gap between the people who are ill-educated about the disease and the situation of PLHIV.”

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But this call may be easier said than done, considering the ongoing challenges faced by PLHIV in the Philippines.

For one, the government response continues to be weak, with public agencies failing to respond to the needs of PLHIV the way they should be doing.  Until now, the access to antiretrovirals remain dependent on the support that the country is getting from the Global Fund, and the only support PLHIV are getting from the government is through PhilHealth’s special benefit package, which, as lamented by many, “is sufficient in answering only some of the needs of PLHIV.” And then – while consultations and some preventive treatments for possible opportunistic infections are being offered for free in treatment hubs – full coverage to combat opportunistic infections is still not included.

It was noted by the UP-Diliman WAD event head, Pozzie Pinoy, that PLHIV should not wait for the government to take any effort if they want something to change. “As long as we know how to tap the government, the services we’re getting from the government will be sufficient. But we still need full backup and full support when it comes to handling opportunistic infections and other services PLHIV may need,” he said.

And so – again – the call to action for PLHIV to come out and share their stories and their journeys with other people.

“You need to come out, we need our voices to be heard. We know the problems, we know all the concerns, all we have to do is to come out and share our journey with other people so other people will know that HIV is a reality, and it really exists in the country, and that PLHIV are the same as everybody else,” Pozzie Pinoy stressed.

There are a lot of advocacy groups who are pushing for equal rights, “but nobody is coming out, so there’s no real face of HIV in the Philippines,” Pozzie Pinoy continued.  

And so we ask: Is “coming out” really the answer PLHIV should be looking for?

After all, will the mainstream community just blindly accept PLHIV when they come out?

Will the church, companies, schools, and other private hospitals welcome PLHIV with open arms after they come out?

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Most importantly, will the government finally listen to the needs of PLHIV if they’re already out?


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