'Stop thinking HIV testing is a bad thing'
I met Ken* about 6 years ago. We were once good friends but have since parted ways.
Recently, we caught up on Instagram. He followed me and liked some of my photos. And we began to share stories. Our conversations took us on a trip down memory lane.
One day, he told me he is an HIV carrier.
I already knew of three young people with Human Immunodeficiency Virus – Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS) who died because of treatable infections like Pneumonia or Tuberculosis.
Davao City, where I live, is the fifth city in the country with the highest number of cases of (HIV- AIDS), according to the August 2014 data from the National Epidemiology Center of the Department of Health (NEC-DOH).
I would like to share what knowledge I have about HIV-AIDS to others out there to bring some enlightenment to an often taboo topic.
READ: Why go for an HIV test?
What is HIV-AIDS?
According to AIDS.gov, HIV weakens ones immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection.
AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome on the other hand is the final stage of HIV infection. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections. These infections are called “opportunistic” because they take advantage of ones weakened immune system, and they can cause devastating illnesses.
The goal of the HIV-infected person is not to let the viruses spread quickly by undergoing ART or Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. This improves the health and prolongs the life of a person with HIV.
No safe and effective cure for HIV currently exists, but scientists and experts are working hard to find one.
How does someone know if you are an HIV carrier? The only way to know for sure is to have yourself tested.
Last February 25, I went to the Reproductive Health & Wellness Center (RHWC) located at Jacinto Street, in Davao City, to get tested. The RHWC offers 100% free HIV and syphilis testing and counseling.
In the case of the RHWC, there are 4 steps in the testing process:
1. Fill up a form and provide your personal details.
2. Go for pre-counseling. This is a requirement of Philippine Law (RA 8504)
The counselor asked me why I volunteered myself for the testing. He also asked for my sexual orientation and preferences, my activities for the past months and years, and how often I have sex.
He also discussed with me how one could acquire HIV and how AIDS develops in the body.
Under the law, the privacy rights of those seeking to get tested need to be respected.
3. Have your blood extracted and wait for the results.
After 30 minutes, you get the results. Only the medical technologists and your counselor should know the results.
My counselor handed over to me the sealed test results. He let me open the folder and I voluntarily told him the result: nonreactive.
4. Go for post-test counseling.
The counselor told me not to engage in any activities for the next 3 months where I could possibly acquire the virus. He asked me to be back on May 25, 2015 to make sure everything is alright.
|SOME OF THE HIV-AIDS TESTING CENTERS IN DAVAO CITY|
|San Pedro Hospital
C. Guzman St., Davao City
|Tel. No. (082) 221 4950|
|Davao Doctors Hospital
118 Elpidio Quirino Avenue, Davao City
|Tel. No. (082) 221-2101 or (082) 222-8000|
|Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC)
Dumanlas Road, Bajada, Davao City
|Tel. No. (082) 221 6574|
|Davao Medical School Foundation (DMSF) Hospital
DMSF Compound, DMSF Drive, Bajada, Davao City
|Tel. No. (082) 226 2344|
End the stigma
I believe that HIV-AIDS is not just a medical problem but a behavioral problem. Unless one will make a decision to stop the spread of HIV-AIDS by simply being responsible for one’s self, we can put an end to the increasing number of new HIV cases.
I write this story because I want the world to know that, for HIV carriers, there is hope to live one's life again – as long as you take pro-active steps to get tested regularly.
I know it takes courage and a firm decision to submit oneself for an HIV-AIDS test.
I can say that the moment I decided to get tested for HIV-AIDS was one of the best decisions I made in my entire life. Today, I look forward to a better me with better days to come. To live each day and be happy.
But, I wonder about Ken and whether he has a support group. People living with HIV-AIDS are just like you or me. They need all the love and support they can get to keep on living a happy life.
I write this story with the hope that we don’t react with fear to others who have HIV-AIDS. Instead, we need to respond with understanding and a fighting spirit. We shouldn’t just ask questions, but also look for answers.
For Ken, I pray that he will be comforted by God's infinite love. As a friend, I will do whatever I can to be there for him. To tap his back and say “hey, all is well.” I will continue to pray that he may live the best time of his life now. That he will not loose hope and faith in God. That he will find joy and peace in everything.
The rest is up to us.
On a positive note, Ken is planning to join an advocacy program to educate young people about HIV-AIDS. If you ask me how he’s doing, I will quote his answer to me when I asked him the same question: “I’m not dying.”
That’s the spirit! – Rappler.com
* - not his real name
Perry Paul G. Lamanilao is a digital media strategist by profession and handles the social media department of Asia’s longest-running Catholic Newspaper — the Davao Catholic Herald. Aside from advocating for climate change awareness in the Philippines, he is also advocating for media literacy and journalism in Mindanao, particularly in Davao City. You can reach him via Facebook or Twitter.
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Man holding Red AIDS Ribbon image via ShutterStock