To “help simplify the HIV discussion for the Deaf community in the Philippines,” a public service announcement (PSA) was released on the “HIV basics,” according to Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) and concurrent president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow (PDR).
The PSA is actually one in three PSAs, all of them forming part of a Bahaghari Center project backed by a collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyed to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) In Asia and the Pacific.
There will also be accompanying trainings for Deaf community members to know about rapid HIV testing, so that “Deaf Filipinos can start HIV testing among themselves.”
Aguila said that often, when discussing SHRH, differently-abled people – such as the members of the Deaf community – are often not included in discussions. “And so even if we’re just as affected by this global social issue, solutions to deal with them often remain hard to reach for us,” she said. From this perspective, “efforts that empower our community members are good should be done; and they should be done fast.”
IN THE PHILIPPINES
In 2012, Michael David C. Tan – publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBTQI publication in the Philippines, and head of Bahaghari Center – conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices of Deaf LGBT Filipinos on HIV and AIDS. The study had numerous disturbing findings.
To start, majority of the respondents (33 or 54.1%) were within the 19-24 age range at the time of the study, followed by those who are over 25 (21 or 34.3%).
Most of them (53 of 61 Deaf respondents) had sex before they reached 18, the legal age of consent in the Philippines. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.
Only 21 (34.4%) use condoms, and – worryingly – even among those who used condoms, 12 (19.7%) had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.
Perhaps the unsafe sexual practice should not be surprising, considering that not even half (29, 47.5%) of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS, with even less that number (23, 37.7%) knowing someone who died of HIV or AIDS-related complications. And with not even half of the total respondents (29) familiar with HIV and AIDS, not surprisingly, only 19 (31.1%) consider HIV and AIDS as serious, with more of them considering HIV and AIDS as not serious (20, 32.8%) or maybe serious (22, 36.1%).
The study also noted that the level of general knowledge about HIV and AIDS is low, with 40 (65.6%) of them falling in this category. Only about 1/5 of them (12, 19.7%) had high level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Even fewer (9, 14.8%) may be classified as having moderate knowledge level.
But this issue is not limited ONLY to the LGBTQIA members of the Deaf community. This issue also affects the SRHR of the Deaf community, as a whole.
For the World Health Organization (WHO), health is a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Specific to reproductive health, WHO stresses that it “implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.”
It is nonetheless unfortunate that various studies – including Tan’s – highlight how the Deaf community continues to be left behind because they are not able to access safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation/s of their choice.
For instance, a study carried out by Deafax (EARS Campaign, 2012) revealed “higher than average levels of STIs, pregnancy and inappropriate behavior within the Deaf community.” This study specifically showed that: 35% of Deaf people did not receive any sex education at school; 65% said that sex education was inaccessible; and 36% learned through direct sexual experience.”
Dealing with SRHR vis-à-vis HIV is obviously just as tricky in the Philippines.
From January 1984 to July 2018, sexual contact among men who have sex with men (MSM) was the predominant (84%, 44,929) mode of transmission among males. Just as that moniker suggests, many of these MSM are not necessarily gay/homosexual, but also engage in sex with opposite sex partners.
This is connected to the population of those most vulnerable to risks associated with sexual activity getting younger, including HIV. But while this has been noted in the Hearing population, the Deaf community is largely ignored, with no existing data on HIV prevalence among them.
In fact, also from January 1984 to July 2018, 16,074 (28%) of the reported cases were 15-24 years old; and broken down, 1,813 were infected through male-female sex, 9,031 from male-male sex, and 4,662 from sex with both males and females.
This means that so long as the HIV infection rate among MSM increases, so do the risk for infection among women.
As it is, the number of diagnosed HIV infections among females in the Philippines has already increased. Females diagnosed with HIV from January to July 2018 (362) was almost three times the number of diagnosed cases compared to the same period of 2013 (126). Ninety-three percent (3,426) of all female cases were in the reproductive age group (15-49 years old) at the time of diagnosis.
With the dearth – if not complete absence – of information for the Deaf community in the Philippines about HIV, Deaf Filipinos (irrespective of their SOGIE) continue not to be informed of and have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of birth control; as well as appropriate health care services of sexual, reproductive medicine and implementation of health education program.
To highlight, as the case is in the Philippines: Even with glaring worrying data, there continue to be no specific program to give the Deaf population access to HIV-related efforts in the Philippines.
The law, for instance, mandates that people who get tested should receive counselling; and yet not one HIV counsellor knows of Filipino Sign Language (FSL).
And for Deaf Filipinos who were able to get tested for HIV and tested HIV-positive, accessing medical services is also problematic because of the lack of interpreters, particularly those familiar with HIV and those who can actually provide HIV testing.
INCLUDING THE DEAF IN THE CONVERSATION
The PSA discusses HIV basics – from what HIV is, how one may get infected with it, and misconceptions surrounding HIV.
A second PSA will be subsequently released, tackling HIV testing (particularly rapid HIV test); while a third PSA will discuss what happens after people get tested for HIV in the Philippine context.
Also, “because any PSA can only do so much to actually make people get themselves tested for HIV,” Aguila said, a series of trainings will be given to select members of the Deaf community in Metro Manila/Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. This is to “empower members of the Deaf community to be more proactive in dealing with HIV by allowing the Deaf to help the Deaf.”
These trainings will be provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.
Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.