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Op-Ed

When COVID-19 limited access to HIV treatment hubs, did they still receive full OHAT Package?

In 2020, when COVID-19 devoured the world, the delivery of HIV-related services was severely impacted. And yet the hubs were still able to collect OHAT Package from PhilHealth.

Photo by @helloimnik from Unsplash.com

Here’s a thought: In 2020, when COVID-19 devoured the world, the delivery of HIV-related services was severely impacted. And yet – even with the limited services given to people living with HIV – the hubs were still able to collect OHAT Package from PhilHealth.

I remember how it was at that time.

1) Like all Filipinos (unless you’re rich or a celebrity or something, in which case you get away with violating the laws), those with HIV were also limited from moving outside of their homes. And so they were not able to go to their treatment hubs to get their “usual” services (like the annual lab tests).

2) Treatment hubs were also limited (some even closed, or had to be redirected to help in the responses to COVID-19). For example, unless there’s an emergency, PLHIVs were told not to go to their hubs (although most couldn’t because no one was allowed to leave their homes, if you remember). So in effect, the hubs were “freed” from serving their HIV-positive clients while COVID-19 raged.

3) Some services emerged specifically to help out PLHIVs. For example, antiretroviral medicines were sent out via Angkas, Lalamove, Grab Delivery, and so on. And telemedicine was also popularized so that those with urgent needs could be served.

4) These services that emerged did not come for free… at least not completely free. For example, PLHIVs still had to pay the Angkas, Lalamove or Grab Delivery drivers upon the pick up from hubs and delivery to PLHIVs of their ARVs. Meaning, aside from their expenses supposed to be covered by OHAT Package, PLHIVs still spent their own money.

Note that at that time, the OHAT Package guaranteed “only” ₱30,000 per PLHIV per year (it is now ₱39,500). That was supposed to cover – among others – “drugs and medications, laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), and test for monitoring anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs toxicity and professional fees of providers.”

Now: If most PLHIVs only really received their ARV medicines during the entire COVID-19 lockdown, what happened to the rest of the ₱30,000?

Just because tapos na ang COVID-19 dramas, we also stop asking. Because this also touches on the issue of profiteering in the HIV community. After all, if the full OHAT Package was still given to the treatment hubs during those years when no services were really offered/given, then… where was the money used? Who got to benefit from the money?

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Cagayan de Oro City-based Stephen Christian Quilacio may be known as a party-goer (and yes, there's nothing wrong with that!). But this Bachelor of Architecture grad is serious when it comes to LGBTQIA and HIV advocacies - e.g. he founded Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA) to mainstream the issues of people living with HIV in Mindanao; and produced "Lima" and eventually "Red Lives" via community theater to share HIV-centric stories particularly to grassroots community. Pushing for fringe communities to no longer be excluded is what drives Stephen; and "if this can be done in a fun way, so much the better," he smiled.

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