A friend in HIV advocacy once told me the story of this person who, after he was diagnosed to be HIV-positive, was told to return to his (supposed to be) treatment hub only after two weeks when some of the equipment that broke down in the hub’s lab will already be fixed. Since any treatment for this PLHIV was supposed to start only after the required lab tests were released, he was left with no choice but to just go home, to “brave the two weeks,” as my friend said. But two weeks later, when my friend went to the PLHIV’s place to pick him up to take him to the hub, he received a sad news. He was two days too late. Only two days before the two weeks ended, the PLHIV passed away from some opportunistic infection. “Hindi niya na inabot ang dalawang linggo (He wasn’t able to get through the two weeks),” my friend said, somewhat… simplistically, as if resigned to the fact that – well – things like this happen, and we simply must accept it, and just move on.
Time remains a very, VERY important issue when dealing with HIV.
In the Philippines, it takes from two to three weeks before the confirmatory test (i.e. determination if one is HIV-positive or negative) is released. And for most treatment hubs, only after the confirmatory test result is released can a PLHIV get CD4 count, which determines when a PLHIV is to start taking ARV.
It is worth stressing that – as mentioned in Outrage Magazine in an earlier interview with Dr. Alice Layug, chairperson of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) Treatment Hub; and Dr. Rossana A. Ditangco, research chief of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) – waiting for the CD4 count is not that critical anymore because the patient can be managed based on clinical conditions even without the CD4 test. Meaning, there may be patients who died NOT because of the two-week waiting period, but most likely because they were already in the very late AIDS stage when they were detected/diagnosed.
But – let’s simplify the argument here – making those already in the very late AIDS stage wait even longer doesn’t seem like a good idea, when what they obviously need is immediate attention.
Squandering time is, by no means, limited to dealing with HIV.
I know of studies/reports done supposedly to reflect the plight of a certain population RIGHT NOW, but – due to red tape – only get published months (if not years!) later, when the issues covered by the studies/reports have already worsened.
Many years have passed, and yet an agreed-upon Anti-discrimination Bill (ADB) continues to not get passed (and to not get wide support even among LGBT Filipinos) because: 1) of disagreements due to infighting in the LGBT community (since some LGBT leaders waste time ONLY mingling with their circles instead of trying to reach out to as many LGBT Filipinos as possible); 2) lawmakers would rather just comment on irrelevant issues concerning (their relationships with) celebrities than actually do the job they are paid to do (that is, to draft laws for the good of the people); 3) et cetera.
And – back to HIV-related concerns – I know of a Deaf MSM who passed away from AIDS-related illnesses, and – until he died – he did not even know of services available that could have helped him. We’ve raised this issue to those with the power to help, and yet to date – two years later! – none has been done to provide Deaf-friendly HIV-related services.
There’s the delay in the procurement of ARVs.
And yes, even with the advances to facilitate faster HIV testing (and even if supposedly there is already an acknowledgement to do some changes in the system to better it), IT STILL TAKES TWO TO THREE weeks before the confirmatory test is accomplished in this country.
When my friend told me about the PLHIV who died while waiting for his lab tests, I told him of the sadness I felt. “Something could have been done; SHOULD have been done,” I said.
He just shrugged. “Ganyan talaga (Well, that’s how it is),” he said.
And for me this is bullshit.
Because this is NOT how things should be.
We always say that in LGBT advocacy, the issues we’re dealing with will outlive us – i.e. these issues will still be here long after we’re gone.
But it doesn’t mean we should waste time when we know we can already start doing something now.
And things should already be done NOW.