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Should PLHIVs just bear it and grin?

After receiving a text message from a PLHIV whose ARVs were changed because of the supposed lack of available supply, Michael David C. Tan asks what PLHIVs are to do, considering the seeming disconnect between the official stance of the Department of Health and what’s really happening on the ground.

At 9.20 last night, I got a text message from a friend who happens to be PLHIV. He was, at that time, on a bus on his way back to his city outside of Metro Manila. Earlier in the day, he came to Manila – as he used to do every three months in the past – to refill his antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

“LONG DAY!” he texted, added with: “VERY TIRING DAY!”

And before I could ask him what made his day tiring, he sent a series of text messages that highlighted a big, BIG problem now affecting Filipino PLHIVs.

Yes, Outrage Magazine already tackled this, with Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac, head of DOH’s National AIDS/STI Prevention and Control Program, claiming that there is no delay in the procurement of ARVs, just as there is no “official pronouncement from the DOH to the treatment hubs to control (the distribution of ARVs) because of a delay in the procurement (of ARVs).” In fact, “for now, all the ARVs that we promised to provide to the patients are available.”

But there seems to be a disconnect in what’s supposed to be officially happening and what’s actually happening on the ground.

As my friend texted: “The ARVs given me were changed.”

“Why?” I asked.

“(There’s) no stock of my usual ARVs,” he texted.

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Though we were just texting, I could almost hear his exasperation.

“What did the doctor say?” I asked.

“No choice” was his answer. Meaning, since his usual ARVs aren’t available, he was simply given what’s there. They didn’t have any other choice (unless they wanted him to stop taking ARVs).

People who speak Bisaya may know of the word “mantener”, which – simplistically – refers to putting up with what’s there because there’s no other choice.

You just eat pancit canton for breakfast, lunch and dinner because you don’t have enough money to buy something more nutritious? That’s mantener.
You end up marrying a guy you don’t like because he’s the only one who likes you? Mantener.
You use only the meds provided to you because there are no other meds you can use? That, too, is mantener.

And this is problematic.

One is supposed to change meds because changing is medically sound; NOT just because the meds given are the only ones available.
Because the former makes sense; but the latter is… irresponsible.

My friend is worried what the changes in his ARVs will do to him.
Particularly because no one took the time to explain to him how his body will react to the new ARVs he has to take.
He was, after all, just told that “there’s no choice.”

His last text to me stated that he was told to “wait for the meds to be delivered by the Department of Health.”

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It is worth asking when the meds will be delivered. After all, the delays are already affecting lives, so more delays will just worsen the situation.

And as my friend waits, should PLHIVs like him just bear it and grin, considering that their lives are at stake here?

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