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04 March 2017

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Let Me Disclose My HIV Status; Why I Am Passionate About HIV & AIDS Awareness?

“I will use my voice to influence the youth and I will raise awareness of certain causes like HIV which is timely and relevant to my country.” This was the empowering statement of Pia which made her a queen. Will awareness to HIV and AIDS die down as Pia bids farewell to her reign?


My “PURE TOP” Advocacy.

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I’ve been doing Blogs online, Vlogs on YouTube and articles for a magazine for quite some time now (as much as I remember). By taking advantage of my available media (e.i. writing in Panorama Juan Umbrella) and using my know-how in writing, I came up with an idea of weaving my words and share it to my readers.  And I am doing it (not just for extra income) but to maximize those available platforms that I have for a deeper intention – advocacy. Advocacy is something that you’re interested into and close to you heart. Indeed, I opted HIV and AIDS  centric topics because as what Pia said “This is timely predicament in the country”; undeniably, I want to be someone who can effectively touch others’ hearts and change their perspective to their lives – without expecting the “Return of Investment”.

This 2017, three of my friends passed away due to various complications as they were diagnosed of having HIV and AIDS.  What’s worse is that they discovered it when the disease is in the late stages and they were simultaneously under medication due to different complications.  Staring them while on bed in the hospital, and noticing their rapid loss of weight is painful to me.

“Where am I, during those times that they need information? Where am I?” Sigh.

Tansyong ! You’re worthless!” my conscience always utters this.

I am (extremely) equipped of information on how to avoid getting the infection and etc. I exerted effort and spent time to educate random people but how come I wasn’t able to share this knowledge to my close friends before they got the “bug”.  Those are my regrets, questions, and guilt feelings –its killing me ‘til this day.


Meet  “AIDA IDAHO”  .

“Bakit absent si Pedro?”

“Baka may date kay AIDA* , or nagpunta sa IDAHO** !”. We perhaps caught this in a casual conversation.

Most of the time, HIV and AIDS are (somewhat) the best subject of laughter - e.i.  workplace, drinking session, etc. In a serious note,  what really is HIV and AIDs (not in medical explanation)? How to avoid it (in a millennial explanation)? Indeed, bringing this topic to a conversation is truly tough especially to those conformist individuals. It needs right timing (how to start/end), various approach (it depends on the listener’s personality and behavior) and rigid confidence (using acquired knowledge).

HIV and AIDS are two different matters, even if they are related to each other, they can’t be interchangeable. Indeed, if you noticed my writing; I never used a slash (/) instead I used the linking verb “and” - to highlight the point and better understanding  (but in medical world “Forward Slash (/)” are still being used).  HIV is a virus that may cause an infection, but AIDS is a condition or a syndrome. Being infected with HIV can lead to the development of AIDS , which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS develops when HIV has caused serious damage to the immune system.  Meaning, a person is maybe living with HIV but It doesn’t follow that he/she will have an AIDS condition – especially if there’s proper and immediate intervention***.

There are ABCs to avoid the virus; (A) abstinence – which is personally I don’t believe on this and it’s just a form of hypocrisy, (B) being faithful, - which is undeniably a challenge to us particularly men are polygamous in nature. (C) correct and consistent use of condoms – this is the golden rule in HIV prevention and (D) early Detection. These principles are significant for everyone regardless of the risk group (age, gender, economic status etc)  they belong to.  While prevention is always the top option, those at risk of HIV infection (should I say “mga naprapraning”)  and those who engage in risky sexual behavior (“loko-loko”) should go for a regular HIV testing; it is for free (it’s your time to take advantage of the tax that you paid) . Regular  HIV testing – I recommend every three months - can help an infected person to be diagnosed in the earlier stages of infection. Early diagnosis can afford an HIV positive person earlier access to care and treatment -again, this is for free especially if you are a Philhealth member - and also allow them to receive counseling on how to protect their partners from infection.

Nowadays, no one is attempting to break the silence of sharing HIV awareness because it is a taboo topic; and so, various incorrect information are disseminated for the purpose of putting “fear” among people - assuming that it might help in controlling the increase of numbers who got infected – e.g. when you inject the infected blood to a banana, or  mixing the infected blood in soft drinks. Erroneous information is not sagacious because it will just lead people live in ignorance and fear.

Most frequent question is “how to identify if a person has an HIV?”. With that being asked to me, I don’t usually answer it sans in-depth explanation. In fact, I strongly encourage to take the test because assumption will never confirm if you’re positive or what not (Not even searching in google). There are four stages after getting the virus. (1) Window Period, (2) Asymptomatic, (3 )Symptomatic (4) Death; by understanding these stages – it will help us to open our mind that HIV and AIDS are not a DEATH SENTENCE provided with timely and proper intervention.
                                                                                                               
(1)WINDOW Period” starts on the first day you acquire the virus up to 2-4 weeks. In this stage, our body is still developing antibodies which is a normal response of our system whenever we are infected – i.e. viral, bacterial, fungal or any pathogens. Once get tested within the window period , you’ll evidently get a (false) negative result since your system is still in the process of producing antibodies. The production of antibodies is an essential determinant for diagnosis that’s why you have to go back after 4 weeks to undergo another same test. Some testing hubs require clients to go back after three months for the purpose of getting a rigid result. In some cases, a person may experience a mild fever as she/he in a “sero-conversion”- accompanied by flu-like symptoms including fever, rashes, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes.  Seroconversion is the period of time during which HIV antibodies develop and become detectable. Seroconversion generally takes place within a few weeks of initial infection.

Once you’re reactive of the HIV anti-body test, you’re now in the (2) ASYMPTOMATIC period - In medicine, a disease is considered asymptomatic if a person living with HIV (PLHIV) is not showing symptoms which  are usually associated. This stage is very high risk in transmitting the said virus since the infected person is not conscious/aware about it- knowing that the symptoms don’t exist. Without getting tested, PLHIV might still infect others & continue unsafe activities that will affect adversely both to his/her partner and to his/her personal health. The span of having an asymptomatic stage varies in every PLHIV depending on the adherence to the do’s and don’ts. In this stage, with proper intervention e.g. adherence to medicine, enough nutrition, healthy lifestyle and avoiding stress. PLHIV can live as normal as those non-reactive individuals. Every PLHIV’s goal is to stretch the span of asymptomatic period as much as possible . He/she may take prophylaxis to avoid any opportunistic infection (O.I.) in the latter period e.g Anti-TB, heap etc. Without diagnosis and proper care management – the immune system of a PLHIV will dramatically weaken and various opportunistic infections (O.I.) can easily enter the system – it leads to (3) SYMPTOMATIC period.

In Symptomatic stage, symptoms start to develop as body soldiers continue to die and the immune system begins to fail. In this period, you’re maybe in the AIDS state (or not), technically AIDS is only a condition wherein a certain numbers of body soldiers (in medical term- CD4)  that are required to fight for the O.I. is no longer sufficient.  In the Philippines, below 350 cd4 count is considered as AIDS (for documentation ) – it varies in different countries  because the country’s Dept. of Health declares what CD4 count is considered as AIDS  - of course it will be based in economic status of the said country – since other countries considered PLHIV as economic burden. Indeed, in this stage, the goal of both the doctor and the PLHIV is to cure the opportunistic infection (OI)- e.g. pneumonia , Tuberculosis , Meningitis, etc – as soon as the PLHIV is ok, they will intrude the immune system to normal as it will be back to ASYMPTOMATIC period.  But if the opportunistic infection is not addressed , the body will give up and it will lead to (4) DEATH.

As I said, “Not all people living with HIV will have a condition of AIDS”. With early diagnosis and proper care management, ASYMPTOMATIC STAGE can be prolonged. There is already a medicine that will suppress the Viral Load and the immune system will automatically bounce back to normal.  The variants of medicine are for free as long as you’re a PhilHealth Member. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the combination of several antiretroviral medicines used to slow the rate at which HIV makes copies of itself (multiplies) in the body. A combination of three or more antiretroviral medicines is more effective than using just one medicine (monotherapy) to treat HIV.

Recently, a new medicine was discovered as one of the risk management and prevention techniques. This is so called Prep or Pre-exposure prophylaxis, a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at a substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. But personally, I don’t recommend it because it will just lessen the risk but not to eliminate .

Admittedly, I am not in a medical field but I am equipped of “know-how” due to the fact that this field is close to my heart.

Watch my video: 

EYEING ON STIGMA

In my own perspective of the “HIV and AIDS” upon exposing myself to those people living with the virus, it is not a physical illness but it is an emotional and psychological pain. The condemnation of the society makes them sick ardently and not the virus itself. The physical illness is easy to manage using the medicine but if the acceptance of family, friends and workmates towards your situation is not that ok,- that is the huge problem which leads you to give up. Stigma is putting a mark of disgrace towards people living with the virus. Most of the time, once we know that person is HIV+ we feel disgusted and we’re going to avoid him/her. If we are going to look at in a wide perspective , the reason why we put shame to this disease because it is associated with sex. Indeed, sex issue is taboo in our society.

Having a high blood pressure and diabetes and its corresponding care management is the same with HIV – it is fatal, it is a life time medication, you have to be cautious of your health, you have to avoid of having complications – yet ,we never condemned those people living w/ high blood and diabetic . Simply because , High blood and diabetes can be assimilated by foods, besides foods are widely acceptable in the society unlike HIV wherein it can acquired through unsafe sex and sex is not acceptable in our conservative society. Undeniably, we are not really disgusted of the virus itself but on how we get the virus. “Pag HIV, malandi”.

Indeed, Those who are getting infected with HIV in the Philippines are also getting younger. While the age group with the biggest proportion of cases between 2001 to 2005 was 35-49 years, starting from 2006, the age proportion shifted to 25-34 years. The proportion of HIV positive cases in the 15-24 year age group increased from 25% in 2006-2010 to 28% in 2011-2016. To be frank, we’re beyond considering this as just a disturbing trend and as long as the stigma is there, and we’re not going to open our mind to embrace information-sadly, it still continue increasing. Expect for this epidemic to only worsen, with the worsening situation something we’re not ready – or even able – to deal with. The continuing lack of attention given to this has long pushed us beyond the point of no return.

FACT THIS!

The first AIDS case in the Philippines was reported in 1984. From January 1984 to December 2016, there has been 39,622 HIV Ab sero-positive cases reported to the HARP. More than half (20,386 or 51%) were from the 25-34 year age group while 10,720 (27%) were youth aged 15-24 years. Today,  26 Filipinos are infected  with HIV every day, up from only one in 2008, and even only three years ago 17 cases per day were registered. Moreover, Seven hundred and fifty (750) new cases of HIV infection were reported in December 2016 to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP). The trend for the epidemic in the country lingers to be the same, with most (96%) of the cases involving males, and more than half belonging to the 25-34 year age group while 29% are youth aged 15-24 years.

As of December 2016, a total of 17,940 PLHIVs were presently on ART*** (Anti-retroviral Therapy). Most (97%) were males. Ninety-five percent were on first line regimen, 4% were on second line regimen, and 1% were on other regimen. The number of those who are currently accessing treatment is not even half the cumulative number of HIV cases in the Philippines that reach 39,622. Already, a total of 1,969 death were reported from January 1984 to December 2016.  Under-reporting is, however, acknowledged.










Having a chance to weave my words and publish in panorama section, I am so thankful ; in my own little way, I was able to share this information which is no one will attempt to tackle specially in the workplace .



This article of mine was published in PANORAMA MAGAZINE (Juan Umbrella) 

Footnote:
AIDA* and IDAHO**  - is a gay lingo w/c means AIDS
ART*** - ART are medications that treat HIV. The drugs do not kill or cure the virus. However, when taken in combination they can prevent the growth of the virus. When the virus is slowed down, so is HIV disease. Antiretroviral drugs are referred to as ARV.
Statistics source : DOH

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