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We are all HIV-affected…

Says Michael David C. Tan: “HIV is not just any group of people’s problem. We may not be infected, but we are all affected. So we can be problems in the fight against HIV. Just as we are similarly possible solutions.”

REACHING OUT. Along Westpoint in Cubao, Quezon City, MSM frequent on a daily basis such party venues as Palawan 1 and Starlites, among others. This makes it an ideal place to help spread information on safer sex (and on HIV and AIDS) - and which Quezon City’s health department with its social hygiene clinics (or SHCs) and the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP) are regularly tapping.

“Nurse ako.” This young gay guy was vehement – angry, even – when he said this to me. “Alam ko na ‘yan (I already know that)!”

“But,” I reasoned, “one’s profession DOES NOT exclude one from the risks of infection…”

Siya (Him),” he then said, pointing to the friend he was with, “araw-araw may ka-sex, magkakasakit siya; ako hindi naman nag-si-sex araw-araw (he has sex everyday, he’ll get sick; I don’t have sex on a daily basis).”

“You don’t just get the infection from sex,” I said.

He turned red. Then, again: “Alam ko na ‘yan (I already know that)!”

Abruptly turning away – his apologetic and somewhat amiable friend in tow after throwing a smile our way – he walked away as fast as he could from where we were. I could only look after them, saddened. We were supposed to be only chatting; I wasn’t even persuading him to get himself tested…

It was a Saturday night, and I joined John Jardenil (a friend from the now defunct Remedios AIDS Foundation or RAF days) in an on-site rendering of testing services offered by the Quezon City’s health department with its social hygiene clinics (or SHCs) and the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP). We were along Westpoint in Cubao, Quezon City, frequented by MSM on a daily basis, though even more so during weekends, to party at such venues as Palawan 1 and Starlites, among others. This made it an ideal place to help spread information on safer sex (and on HIV and AIDS).

As observed, the task remains… challenging.

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Because there are people who refuse to believe that they are just as at risk.

That we are all as at risk.

Numerous instances highlighted this during my visit.

Yes, there’s the somewhat angry nurse.

Then there’s one of the volunteers who, sadly: 1) believed that HIV is a “gay disease” (“Hindi namin ‘yan makukuha,” he said); and 2) told MSM – curious about the process to have themselves tested – that he, himself, has yet to get himself tested, because “hindi naman ako MSM”.

There were also those who didn’t necessarily know what they were doing. “Ang iba, malakas lang ang loob mag-pa-test kasi lasing,” said one of the volunteer “lures” (them who hop from one bar to another to urge people to have themselves tested). “Minsan kasi, nadadala lang sa barkada.” More frequently, though, “mukhang ayaw nila; ayaw talaga nila”, so that “we really have to persuade them.”

That they get themselves tested is, in itself, good. But other issues need to be closely considered here, e.g. If one tested positive, do we have support systems for them after the period of “lakas ng loob” when they are no longer drunk/already sober? What mechanisms are there to encourage people to: take confirmatory test (for those who test positive), change behaviors to avoid getting infected, et cetera?

And then there were those who suspected themselves of already being positive (sans undergoing tests), so “confirming this is no longer necessary,” as one of those who were in Westpoint that night said. “Positive na rin naman, o, eh, ano na?”

As of June 2012, a total of 295 new HIV Ab sero-positive individuals were confirmed by the STD/AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory (SACCL) and reported to the HIV and AIDS Registry. The number, by the way, was 66% higher compared to the same period in 2011.

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As repeatedly noted, even if the global HIV trend is stagnation, with decrease in HIV infection rates in fact noted in many countries, the Philippines registered over 25% increase in HIV infection, so that the reported HIV incidence has increased to about one every two to three hours (or eight to 10 per day) in the first quarter of 2012. Since 1984, when the first case was reported in the Philippines, the number totaled 9,964 HIV positive persons; 1,061 of which are AIDS cases

There are now over 70 vulnerable areas in the country where the epidemic is worsening. Aside from metropolitan Manila, Cebu and Davao, these now include: the cities of Olongapo, Antipolo, Dasmarina, Batangas, General Santos, Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, and Lucena. Still others cited include: Santa Rosa, San Pablo, Calamba and Santa Maria in Laguna; San Jose del Monte and Santa Maria in Bulacan; Tagum and Panabo in Davao del Norte; Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro; and San mateo and Taytay in Rizal.

Worth pointing out is how most of the new cases (97%) involved males [with the 20 to 29 year (56%) age-group having the most number of cases], and males having sex with other males (87%) the predominant type of sexual transmission. Meaning, a key population at risk are men who have sex with other men, AND with women. For emphasis, that’s an “AND”.

Which makes HIV not just any group of people’s problem.

So change the attitude.

This is EVERYONE’s issue.

We may not be infected, but we are all affected.

So we can be problems in the fight against HIV.

Just as we are similarly possible solutions.

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The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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