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Op-Ed

What you need to know about HIV and AIDS

rainCHECK’s Rain De Ocampo writes about the key lessons everyone needs to learn in the fight against HIV.

By Rain De Ocampo

PLCPD or the Philippines Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development with support from UNAIDS launches the YES2Test campaign which urges citizens to voluntarily undergo a regular HIV test to help diminish the spread of the disease here in the country.

I attended last 31st of May an HIV Forum organized by PLCPD at Burgoo in The Podium, Ortigas Center. The event was held on the occasion of the 30th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial which was celebrated also through a simple program at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) later that same day.

I was actively involved in a youth organization way back in the 90′s that addresses youth concerns during that period and the top three on the list was Drugs, AIDS and Education – two decades later, not much has changed. We partnered with the Catholic NGO, Caritas Manila and developed awareness and info-dissemination modules for both drugs and HIV but because of our limited financial support and the fear or spreading ourselves thinly on all three important issues, we decided to focus all our strengths and efforts on Drug Abuse Prevention and Education which I headed for four years. However, since we also have ready modules for AIDS and HIV Awareness, we occasionally gave this also to schools and communities by request.

If I am to sum up all the learning that I’ve had from my experiences with the organization and the PLCPD forum that I’ve just attended. I can share with you three (3) things that I think all of us should take to heart dearly:

  1. HIV and AIDS are two different things. HIV is the pathogen or the virus (just like the flu virus) while AIDS is the sickness or the disease. Although HIV can cause AIDS, it does not necessarily mean that when you are HIV + that you already have AIDS.
  2. Being HIV + is not a DEATH SENTENCE, a lot of people with HIV still live normal lives, but of course they’ll need to have some lifestyle changes and take precautionary measures to better cope with what they have. It’s not going to be easy but it’s no different from people living with diabetes or hepatitis.
  3. More than risky behaviors, more people spread HIV through ignorance, fear and apathy. Our concern before years ago was the awareness, however, right now people are very much aware – but the main problem really is how to send people the right information and getting them involved in the process. Getting them to CARE!

The March 2013 AIDS Registry shows that there are 12,791 cumulative HIV positive individuals since 1984, UNAIDS projects a total of 28,072 actual cases in the Philippines. That’s about an alarming 12-13 new reported cases in a day. The actual figures can be more since they are estimating around 50% of unreported and undocumented cases because of obvious reasons.

“Such discrepancy in figures is due to the wariness of the citizenry to have themselves tested of the virus. Since stigma and discrimination to Person Living with HIV (PLHIV) is too rampant, people don’t want to be tested. Worse, fifty percent of those who take the test do not go back for the results,” Teresita Marie Bagasao, UNAIDS Country Coordinator, said.

Aside from  Bagasao, also present during the forum are Karl Reiner Zetha Agbulos of Take The Test, Michael David Tan of Outrage  Magazine and Yes2Test advocate Wanggo Gallaga who gave his inspiring testimony about living and coping with HIV.

PLCPD Executive Director Rom Dongeto was also present to welcome all the participants of the forum.

“With Yes2Test, PLCPD wishes to encourage people to have themselves tested of HIV. We are bringing this concern into the 16th Congress and as part of our mandate, we shall also urge our lawmakers to work on bills that would help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS,” said PLCPD executive Director Rom Dongeto.

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Yes2Test is a campaign that hopes to bring the stigma to an end and make HIV testing a regular healthy habit among individuals just like having an annual physical. Contrary to previous notions, HIV tests are not that expensive. There are actually clinics that provide them for FREE and some charging from 300 to 1,500.

Check out the list of available HIV Testing Centers in the Philippines at COURAGE PHILIPPINES.

You may also want to check out the available Treatment Hubs at Department of Health and OutrageMag.Com.

Some ideas that were presented by the Take The Test group is to organize an annual group HIV testing activity together with either friends, families and even with members of the group or the organization that you belong to right now. They also recommend that for people who are involved in risky behaviors to take the test 2 to 3 times a year. Remember that the sooner you know, the better you can cope with the situation because being HIV+ like all of life’s challenges is not the end – it is a way for you to be stronger and better.

Among those present in the forum are members of Bloggers for a Cause, Blogwatch and representatives from Kabataan Partylist.

THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED AT rainCHECK.

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