Every day, 22 Filipinos are reported to be HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)-positive. In the past five years, the number of HIV and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) cases has gone up an astonishing 277%. The UN even reported that the Philippines is one of the seven countries that have a 25 percent increase in HIV cases in the past decade. These cringe-worthy numbers don’t even include those people who didn’t report or seek any medical assistance for their disease.
A lot of factors can be taken in with what these numbers represent. People living with HIV (PLHIV) in the Philippines are subjected to passive and intentional discrimination everyday at home, school, work and even hospitals. This doesn’t really help the fact that they are people living with a very serious and life-threatening disease.
It’s high time we get to know more about the disease and what we can do for the people it has affected. Here are 8 things you need to know to get started.
*NOTE: Appearance of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have HIV or AIDS. Seek professional help first.
Knowledge on HIV and AIDS (or any kind of disease, for that matter) can and will save lives.
According to the UN, many of the 36.1 million infected people do not know much about the disease nor do they even know that they have it. This is where education and understanding step in to help you prevent and control the disease from reaching you and your loved ones.
HIV and AIDS emerged in the 1980s. Very little was known about it and its transmission. This made people paranoid of contagion which then made them judge and ostracize those who were affected. Sadly, myths like HIV and AIDS can be transmitted via kissing and it being a gay man’s disease are still believed by many. Not only are these myths untrue, but they also stamp a stigma against infected people who don’t, by any means, “deserve” it.
Here are some more myths that people still believe until today.
Marky Manlangit was diagnosed with HIV. For fear of being disowned by his own family and friends, he decided to live with his disease without coming out or seeking any medical treatment for three years. The day came when his body couldn’t handle the disease anymore and he had to go to the hospital for the much-needed medical help.
The Ugandan government enforcing anti-homosexuality laws, healthcare personnel avoiding eye contact with an HIV positive patient, an employer refusing to hire someone with AIDS, judging an HIV positive person just because he or she has the disease–these are just a few known HIV and AIDS-related stigmas experienced widely by PHLIV across the globe. They may be different stories, but they all share the same thought that PLHIV do not deserve less than the basic human right to live peacefully.
Just like Marky and the people victimized by social stigma, many PLHIV around the world are living in fear: the fear of being judged, the fear of being disowned by their loved ones, and the fear of not being able to receive equal medical treatment.
“I am afraid of giving my disease to my family members—especially my youngest brother who is so small. It would be so pitiful if he got the disease. I am aware that I have the disease so I do not touch him. I talk with him only. I don’t hold him in my arms now,” a Vietnamese woman shares about her self-stigma affecting her relationship with her family.
PLHIV have a much more important battle to win besides social stigma, and that’s the internal battle of dealing with the disease and accepting the intense changes that come with it. Having HIV and AIDS requires a special amount of attention and financial capability, and many people just can’t live up to these needs (and not to mention the discrimination they will get from other people). This fear of discrimination, the fear of becoming a burden, and the lack of proper medical and financial resources breaks down their confidence to seek any medical help.
The UN’s Millennium Development Goals reported in July this year that there was a 40 percent decline in new HIV infections globally between 2000 and 2013. The number has been declining internationally, but the Philippines seems to be at a loss in this area. Reasons like lack of information, access to the latest medical facilities, and all kinds of stigma still prevail in the Philippine HIV and AIDS community.
For 2015, the government allocated P500 million specifically for the HIV/STI Prevention Program of the Department of Health. Local organizations and movements like Love Yourself Inc. and The Red Whistle have also pushed for the education of the public about HIV and AIDS. Despite these collective efforts, the reported number of people acquiring the disease is still increasing. In fact, this May 2015 saw the highest number of cases with 748 (83 percent of which are aged from 15 to 34 years old) reported infections only in May 2015, an all-time high ever since the government started keeping track in 1984.
For the 2016 budget, DOH will be given P1.08 billion for the HIV and AIDS situation in the country. This is more than double the past budget.
Senator Miriam Santiago has also pushed for the amendment of the existing Republic Act No. 8504 or the “Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.” She filed Senate Bill 186 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy and Plan Act, and Senate Bill 2728 or the Stop AIDS in Prisons Act for the alarming rate of HIV cases in the country’s prisons. There have been no updates or news regarding the future of this amendment.
A cure for HIV has yet to be found, but there are treatments to weaken the virus and help PLHIV live longer, better lives. The Antiretroviral Treatment or ART is one of the standard HIV treatments. ART keeps your viral load (or the amount of virus in your body) low so your immune system can recover and stay strong.
Scientists have also made large steps towards understanding the virus. A baby from Mississippi received treatment 30 hours after birth, and a child from California was also treated when she was just 4 years old. The Mississippi baby was HIV-free until after 2 years while the California baby was negative for a year. Although both patients still eventually showed signs of the virus again, Robert Siliciano, MD, professor of medicine in the infectious diseases department at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the experiment was proof for his theory that HIV cells stay in the body and hide in a “reservoir” that’s hard to detect. Destroying these reservoirs may just be the cure to HIV.
HIV and AIDS can be contracted from birth, intravenous drug use, or an exchange of bodily fluids during sexual intercourse. Sex or no sex, one should still be tested for HIV and AIDS.
There are a lot of things one can do for the improvement of life of PLHIV. But it all starts with understanding the disease and how it personally and physically affects its carrier. It’s also very important to be wary of that having HIV and AIDS is not a signal to think of someone unworthy of equal rights. If PLHIV are strong enough to live every day despite bearing the weight of being infected, you should also be stronger to help them carry it.
Take some time to look at groups that redefine HIV advocacy.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Share them with us by leaving a comment below.