Importance of HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention discussed in forum

With the goal of raising awareness and addressing the stigma on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) to the Lasallian community, the University Student Government (USG) Office of the President, in partnership with the Arts College Government (ACG), FAST2018 and The Red Whistle Organization organized a forum last February 14 at the Multipurpose Hall, 20th floor of the Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall. 

Speakers from the Red Whistle Organization, People Living with HIV (PLHIV) representatives, and Lasallian Pastoral Office (LSPO) Director James Laxa led discussions during the program. 

HIV 101

In his opening remarks, USG President Lance Dela Cruz expressed concern toward the youth affected by the HIV/AIDS health crisis. “I want everyone to remember that there is no shame in getting tested. It is important to talk about [HIV and AIDS],” Dela Cruz emphasized. 

The Red Whistle Organization’s Executive Vice President JF Ecosbañez noted that 31-percent of Filipinos aged 15-24 were diagnosed with AIDS last September 2019. “That’s why we are [in this forum], [we need] to get a better understanding of what HIV and AIDS is,” he pointed out.

To clarify common misconceptions about HIV and AIDS, Ecosbañez emphasized the difference between them, noting that HIV is the virus that attacks our immune system, while AIDS is a series of complications caused by HIV.

Ecosbañez relayed that HIV can only be transmitted through “penetrative” sex, exposure to infected blood, through childbirth, and from breastfeeding between mother and child. He emphasized that HIV cannot be transmitted through air, water, and mosquito bites. 

Reducing the risk

“We are promoting [the] correct and consistent use of [a] condom because condoms are 90-95 percent reliable in terms of the prevention of the transmission of HIV,” Ecosbañez noted. 

“It is not just HIV, [the condom] protects you from [sexually-transmitted] infections and unwanted pregnancy,” he added.

Ecosbañez also emphasized the avoidance of using recreational drugs that could affect one’s mental capacity when making decisions. “When you are high or [under] the influence of alcohol and drugs, it impairs your judgment. You do not have the ability to pick up [information] and act accordingly,” he explained.

In HIV testing, Ecosbañez outlined the process: pre-test counseling, testing, and post-test counseling. According to Ecosbañez, pre-test counseling ensures that the patient makes a well-informed decision on undergoing the test or not. During the post-test counseling, the patient is briefed on the steps they need to take after the results of the blood test have been provided.

On the other hand, Ecosbañez highlighted the importance of undergoing early testing to ensure that an HIV-positive individual can avail of an antiretroviral pill, likening it to “maintenance”. “Kapag nag-initiate ng [antiretroviral treatment] agad-agad, mas suppressed ang virus sa katawan and it will be controlled,” he asserted. 

(If the antiretroviral treatment is initiated immediately, the virus will most likely be suppressed in the body and it will be controlled.)

“Now if you stick to your [medication], ‘yung HIV or ‘yung viral load niya sa katawan [will be] undetectable,” Ecosbañez mentioned. “If the virus in your body is already undetectable, you are already intransmissible, meaning to say, you can no longer transmit the virus to someone,” he added. 

(The HIV or the viral load in the body will be undetectable.)

Destigmatizing the health condition

Apart from the lengthy discussion on the health concerns of HIV/AIDS, PLHIV representatives Mhark Yahot, Cherry Valdez, and Kael Mata were invited to the stage along with LSPO Director James Laxa in a panel discussion facilitated by The Red Whistle President Ben Bernabe. The panelists tackled questions and shared personal experiences on HIV-related discrimination. 

When asked about his opinion on how the media portrays PLHIV, Yahot expressed, “Siguro yung part na judgement. Ang hirap yung pinag-usapan mo kasi ang HIV sa public kasi ang daming mga reception—ang daming perception.”

(I think it is the judgment. It is difficult to talk about HIV in public because there are so many different receptions and perceptions about it.) 

On the other hand, Mata emphasized the importance of using social media in information campaigns, “Ang hirap mag-discuss ng HIV sa [panel discussion] lang. For sure, [30-50] percent lang sa inyo magshashare ng information.” 

(It is difficult to discuss HIV in a panel discussion only. For sure, only [30-50] percent of the audience today will share the information.)

Valdez emphasized the importance of getting tested for HIV so they can better monitor their health. “If you are positive just like what happened in my case, [which] was detected early, hindi ko naexperience yung mga opportunistic infection,” she said, sharing that she underwent antiretroviral treatment early.  

(I did not experience any opportunistic infection.)

Laxa, who represented the youth ministries in the Manila campus, stated that HIV/AIDS is an issue that needs to be discussed and studied. Acknowledging that even though the Lasallian Brothers did not release a stand on the Reproductive Health Bill, he shared that the University gives students the right to make informed health decisions.

Asked on whether the University supports the use of reproductive health services, Laxa answered that he has “not seen any document or announcement [regarding] condom [use].” Instead, he argued that students have the responsibility to be “healthy always.”

Correction: February 17, 7:15 pm
The previous version of this article failed to include FAST2018 as one of the partners for the event. This has since been corrected.

John Robert Lee

By John Robert Lee

Leave a Reply