How to use technology, stories to curb PH’s HIV epidemic

Pocholo Espina

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How to use technology, stories to curb PH’s HIV epidemic
While international groups say the Philippine government is not doing enough to address the country's HIV epidemic, different groups fill the gap through awareness programs and support for persons living with HIV

MANILA, Philippines – The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an urgent health problem in the Philippines and more cases are recorded every month. 

In the first quarter of 2016, around 2,291 new HIV infections were reported – 24% higher than the same period last year. The January report also shows an all-time high record since 1984 of some 804 cases. What’s more alarming is that there are more cases that go unrecorded. 

According to experts, the problem with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines is that people don’t want to get tested. There are many factors that hinder people from doing so but according to the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, the stigma attached to the disease is the biggest concern that hinders both diagnosis and treatment. (WATCH: RapplerTalk: Curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic

While Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Philippine government is not doing enough to address this major health concern, different groups are filling the gap through awareness programs and support groups for persons living with HIV (PLHIV).

Here are 3 programs that are raising awareness on HIV/AIDS through technology and storytelling.

Uncove(RED): QRiosity Codes

A group of 8 students from the Ateneo de Manila University utilizes QR codes (quick response codes) to spread awareness amongst students in the school. With the help of IDEO’s Human Centered Design, the QR code was adapted to become more adept to its target market, which are the students of Ateneo who believe that they are not susceptible to such diseases.

Photo courtesy of Uncove(RED)

It was paired up with references to pop culture and even the national elections. The QR Code links the viewer to a quiz about HIV and a geotag of a nearby health facility in Ateneo which gives more information about HIV. Try it out with Snapchat!

Project Lead Kyla Cabatit said the group wants to raise awareness and help counter the stigma. 

We picked HIV because it’s a difficult topic. It’s a taboo topic among students – something not openly talked about and discussed. We took inspiration from the nature of HIV – how it’s passed on from one person to another. We wanted our message to be passed on as well,” Cabatit told Rappler.

The group also hopes to expand their reach, specifically to their school’s health service.

Sharing Stories: B(the)-Change

B-Change is a social enterprise that helps improve the well-being of LGBTI and allies using technology. They do three things: engage stakeholders, build products, and gather insights to enhance inclusion. 

The group collaborates with different organizations, including government and the private sector, allowing them to strengthen their capacity in using technology more effectively to achieve positive social impact. 

They also develop digital products across platforms, such as web and mobile, to provide an avenue for people to share their experiences. Currently, they have a web platform called BE Web App which allows people to share their stories and get the support they need while maintaining confidentiality. 

The group also aims to build a mobile application and engage Southeast Asia’s LGBTI communities and eventually use the data to reach their final objective – to use insights to improve their services.

A 3-year research agenda has been set to analyze the data that they acquire from the application to make their application more accessible to those who need it.

A new platform for PLHIV will be available especially to susceptible groups which include the LGBTI sector. With an online open library, communities can grow and see how these PLHIV are still normal people who do normal day to day activities! 

Check out their first few stories here, and here! 

Piecing things together: AIDS Memorial Quilt

Pinoy Plus Association is the oldest people’s organization that implements community-based HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support services to PLHIV. What makes them unique is that they are an organization for PLHIV managed by fellow PLHIVs.

AWARENESS. Quilts created by PLHIVs are displayed in QC Memorial Circle. Photo courtesy of Pinoy Plus

Noel Quinto, the former president and one of the first patients to receive antiretroviral therapy in the Philippines, still remembers how they started in 1994. It was a small group of four individuals working towards the advocacy of unified and community-driven HIV/AIDS initiatives. Now, there are more than 300 PLHIVs in the organization fighting for the same cause they started 22 years ago. 

One of the projects they do is called The AIDS Memorial Quilt. An international initiative, it is a program that crowdsources quilts made for or by HIV/AIDS patients and sews them together to make several larger quilts. 

Inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the quilt serves as a symbol of celebration for the people who have both survived and died of AIDS-related causes. It is one of Pinoy Plus’ pioneer projects since 1994.

In the Philippines, they create the quilt once a year, every second week of May, and eventually have it open for display in their office. For a small fee, which is donated to their efforts, they allow other people to host the quilts in places where they want to. 

What do you think of these HIV/AIDS initiatives? Do you know other organizations doing initiatives that help curb the spread of HIV? Let us know in the comments section! –

A health science student of the Ateneo de Manila University, Pocholo Espina is a Rappler intern.

#StayNegatHIVe is MovePH’s HIV/AIDS awareness campaign spearheaded by our communities across the Philippines, and initially held in partnership with DM9 and LoveYourself.

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