Puerto Princesa is one of the top six cities nationwide with a high increasing trend of HIV cases, says Dr. Louie Ocampo, Chief of Medical Professional Staff of Ospital ng Palawan (ONP) during the Media Launch of “HIV Positive Poster Tour de Pilipinas held Tuesday, February 23, 2016.
This activity is initiated by Pedal for HIV, an organization that uses sports as medium to promote HIV awareness in partnership with Grupo de Incentivo a Vida (GIV), a Brazil-based NGO, both aims to provide more information about HIV, to empower youth as an advocates and to reduce stigma and discrimination.
The HIV poster which originally developed in Brazil, is made with a drop of blood donated by a person living with HIV (PLHIV). The poster itself carry a message how the virus is transmitted and implies that people cannot get the virus from the poster or from the casual contact with PLHIV.
Faustine Luell T. Angeles, Jr., founder of Pedal for HIV said that they chose to visit Palawan because of the alarming increase of HIV cases.
In Palawan, there are 78 recorded cases since 1984. During 1990s to early 2000s, there were just an additional one or two cases per year. But according to Dr. Ocampo, in 2015 alone, there were 40 recorded new HIV cases in Palawan, all are male having sex with male (MSM) ranging from 18 to 40 years old. “What is alarming is, this maybe just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Ocampo said.
He added that this is just based on the record of those who willingly undergo a test. “But how about the unrecorded cases?” he stressed out.
Dr. Jose Coloma, chairman of HIV Treatment Hub at ONP said that they give free diagnosis and treatment for HIV including the psycho-social support. Since they started in January last year, there were only 272 who underwent test for the whole year and an additional 25 since the start of 2016 to date. ONP staff admitted that the figures are very low considering their target population or key areas. They believe that the problem is awareness and the stigma against people diagnosed with that virus.
Angeles 27, of Pedal for HIV who just came out last year as PLHIV for 5 years believes that “there’s life after it” (being diagnosed with HIV). He confessed being stigmatized and discriminated but it does not stop him from being an advocate for HIV awareness.
The same case with Victor Silba, 28, volunteer of GIV, he came out as PLHIV for 2 ½ years, he also advocates to stop discrimination against people infected with the virus. He encourages everyone to be tested, and be aware of their situation because an “early diagnosis means early treatment and longer life.”
Dr. Ocampo on the other hand urges everybody, especially those who are practicing unsafe sex to go to the treatment hub of ONP and be tested. He emphasized that their services are for free and with utmost sense of confidentiality.
On the part of the NGO, the Save the Children Philippines and Global Fund through its representative Joshua Adam Nuyda said that they’re also doing their part in this cause in terms of helping the local government unit. They are helping the Social Hygiene Clinic tagged as “Sundown Clinic” under the City Health Office that offers free HIV counseling and testing. Sun Down connotes that their services is extended beyond office hours to up to 8:00 PM to cater the interest of people who are working or for those who are ashamed to avail their services during daytime.
After Puerto Princesa, Pedal for HIV and GIV will go to Cebu, Boracay, IloIlo, Gumaras, Bacolod and Cagayan Valley to conduct awareness in their target key sites.