Pressing matters call for serious action. But in the urgent case of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Philippines, the issue is something that is highly stigmatized and taken for granted.
According to Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque II, the number of people affected by HIV has “drastically increased over the last couple of years.” To address the elephant in the room, the DOH took a daring step to finally break the stigma and kindle a positive and welcoming support system for people living with HIV, also known as PLHIV.
Before anything else, let’s get some facts straight:
- In the Philippines, 32 people are diagnosed everyday.
- One in every three cases is a young person aged 15-24 and 83% of HIV cases are from sexual contact among males.
- Anyone can get HIV. It attacks the immune system until it breaks down.
Launched by the DOH together with Integrative Competitive Intelligence Asia in 2018, LHIVE Free is a campaign started to debunk myths about HIV to promote a positive mindset. It aims to engage people in an educational discussion, break the divisions, and provide comfort for PLHIV who suffer from discrimination.
The campaign’s goal is to eradicate the societal discrimination towards those afflicted with PLHIV, increase HIV testing, and promote safer sex. However, the campaign faces its challenges, primarily the low coverage rates for testing and accessibility to treatment, which can be attributed to the lack of holistic information on HIV.
To address these challenges, the DOH developed a plan: utilize the power of social media and events to present relevant and updated information about HIV in a fun and understandable way to reach out to the masses — especially the youth.
Through their forum called “Show-Up and Share, LHIVE Free: Solidarity Conference for Bloggers,” advocates were given a chance to voice out their concerns and to discuss the DOH’s plan to spread the news about HIV and AIDS.
The stories shared by advocates really strike a chord. One of the attendees, Mhark Jayrald Yahot, shared his end of the hardships he went through that lead him to start the support group MARIPOSA Inc., which all started out as an act of compassion for other PLHIV, and has now grown to 165 members. Also in attendance were Billy Santo of Project Red Ribbon and REDvocate ambassador Patrixia Santos, both urging that the only way to fight the stigma is through proper knowledge.
Basically, LHIVE Free simply wants to address everything that’s wrong with the stigma: to educate the masses, and also be a warm embrace for the affected, telling them that they can live free from their fears and that it’s still possible to live a normal life.
This is only the beginning. What we can do is simple: to educate ourselves and be aware.