DOH-RITM, UPLB team up for Rated+ HIV/AIDS forum

by Alyssa Mae Tolcidas

The AIDS Research Group (ARG) of the Department of Health Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (DOH-RITM), in partnership with the College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines Los Baños (CDC-UPLB), held a forum on HIV/AIDS and the Filipino Youth with the theme “Hi, V! Gusto Kitang Makilala” on May 3 from 9am-12pm at the DL Umali Hall at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

More than 200 participants attended the forum—students, faculty, and staff from Laguna State Polytechnic University (LSPU), City College of Calamba (CCC), and UPLB, as well as youth from different parts of Laguna. (Photo courtesy of Rated+)

The event was a joint effort by “Rated+ (Rated Plus) Let’s Talk about You and Me” the DOH-RITM’s university caravan that aims to open a discourse on HIV/AIDS among the Filipino youth; as well as the class of DEVC 136 (Multi-media Materials Management and Production) CD- 1L, under the guidance of Assistant Professor Wini B. Dagli from the Department of Science Communication (DSC) at the UPLB College of Development Communication (CDC).

The three panellists—Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, the head of ARG at DOH-RITM; Professor Satwinder Rehal, an international health expert from UP Open University (UPOU) and Philippine Women’s University (PWU); and Mr. John Derrick Ordonez, the ASEAN Student Council President, discussed five themes on HIV/AIDS namely; 1) awareness and risky behavior; 2) HIV/AIDS treatment; 3) stigma; 4) lifestyle and support from social institutions; and 5) self-worth. (Photo courtesy of Rated+)

The three-hour forum was composed of a film showing entitled “Bakit Ako?,” ARG’s winner from De La Salle, Dasmarinas, Cavite in last year’s Strain Film Exposition; a panel discussion which included short video teasers and a game with the audience; a testimony from V; and an open forum followed by and oath-taking towards the end. There was also a free confidential HIV testing at the DL Umali Hall Basement until 5pm.

“We called the forum ‘Hi, V!’ not to trivialize HIV/AIDS but to give it a human face,” Prof. Dagli explained in his opening remarks. He also said that CALABARZON is the second region next to NCR that has the most number of HIV cases—62% of which comprise of the youth ages 15-24. According to UNAIDS Data Hub for Asia-Pacific, the proportion of young people (15-24) with comprehensive HIV knowledge in eight ASEAN countries from 2012-2016 is relatively low, and that lack of knowledge puts people at risk of HIV.

Dr. Ditangco gave a clear comparison between HIV and AIDS, saying that “HIV is a virus that gradually weakens the immune system. AIDS, on the other hand, is a condition that occurs during the technical stage of HIV.” She encouraged the audience to have self-control and not engage in casual, unprotected sex, because majority of the transmission happens during unplanned sex. “You can be sexy and smart at the same time,” said Ditangco.

When asked where social institutions like family, church, and state come in the picture, Prof. Rehal answered: “We are not seeing much on media [showbiz] that would bring awareness at the household level.” He then emphasized the need for input of the “kabataan” at the policy level and the need to open up matters on sex at the level of the family. “You [the youth] can act as bridge between the older generation and younger generation,” Rehal said.

On HIV/AIDS treatment, Ordoñez advised his fellow youth to not fear experts when it comes to getting the treatment they need. He said that there are various student organizations that promote matters and activities regarding HIV/AIDS, as well as testing centers and municipal hygiene clinics located around Laguna. “Let us also be responsible when using [social media dating] applications like Tinder, Omegle, etc. We should make informed choices,” Ordoñez added.

According to Prof. Rehal, the three factors affecting people’s acceptance on treatment are: “1) society tends to stigmatize HIV/AIDS as an immoral disease; 2) facilities are more accessible in urban areas than in rural areas; and 3) ultimately, it still depends on people’s attitude toward getting treatment.” Rehal says that the stigma on HIV/AIDS exists because people are unaware.

In the last part of the panel discussion, a game with the audience was conducted wherein questions or statements regarding HIV/AIDS were flashed, and the audience raised their red paper for agree, and white for disagree. Most of the audience agreed that gay people are more prone to HIV, but Prof. Rehal argued that it is not necessarily the case and that the disease should not be categorized as a “gay problem,” because it all depends on one’s sexual practice. Meanwhile, the audience showed a mix of red and white when asked if they can still have biological children even if they have HIV, of which Dr. Ditangco replied, “Yes it is possible, because there is now medical intervention.”

After the panel discussion, a testimony was given by Billy, also known as V, who shared a heartfelt story about his life as a person living with HIV. He then joined the panellists in answering questions during the open forum and leading the oath-taking in support of HIV/AIDS and awareness. Afterwards, he thanked the organizers for gathering the youth to let them know more about HIV/AIDS. “I may have this virus but I have not lost my humanity,” said V.

“Nakatulong talaga yung forum para ma-enlighten ako about sa HIV, especially dun sa mga possible ways na pwedeng makuha yung virus besides intercourse. I think naging effective din yung forum na i-emphasize din yung social aspect nung disease lalo na yung stigma (The forum really helped enlighten me about HIV, especially about the other ways we can get infected besides intercourse. I think the forum has effectively emphasized the social aspect of the disease especially the stigma),” said Mikaela Kate Mamauag, a BS DevCom student who attended the forum.

“The process of organizing the campaign—from brainstorming to consultations to the implementation has been a fun and challenging experience,” said Alisandra Lei Escobar, the overall coordinator of the DEVC 136 CD-1L class.   She shared how organizing the forum was hard at first because she was still learning about the process, but with the guidance of Prof. Dagli and her classmates, everything fell in to place. “Mahirap siya, pero worth it kasi nakita ko yung takeaways ng mga umattend sa forum and maganda naman yung feedback. Sa future na gagawa ng ganitong mga types of advocacy sana matuto sila sa mga naging success at failures nung campaign. Lagi’t laging babalik kung para kanino ba yung ginagawa namin (It was hard but it was worth it because I saw the takeaways of those who attended the forum and the feedback was overwhelming. I hope that those who will conduct these types of advocacy in the future will be able to learn from the success and failures of the campaign. At the end of the day, it will always boil down to who we are doing this for),” Escobar added.

According to Rated+, 90% of 750 newly diagnosed persons living with HIV in the Philippines in December 2016 do not show any signs of infection. “HIV testing is the only way to know,” it says in their free confidential HIV testing poster. Dr. Ditangco further emphasized that there is no cure for HIV yet, and that “testing is a win-win situation.”

There will be a second batch of free confidential HIV Testing on May 15 at the Graduate School Multipurpose Hall, UPLB, from 9am-5pm. In a Facebook post, Ruth Ann Recto, a BS DevCom student, encouraged her friends to get tested for HIV: “Let us break the stigma. Dapat talaga nagpapa-test tayo kahit hindi tayo sexually active kasi there are other factors kung paano ito makukuha…walang symptoms ang HIV at malalaman mo lang kapag nagpatest ka. Negative ang result ko, ikaw? #BreakTheStigma #KnowMoreAboutHIV (Let us break the stigma. We should really get tested for HIV whether or not we are sexually active, because there are other factors on how we can get infected…HIV has no symptoms and testing is the only way to know. My result is negative, what’s yours? #BreakTheStigma #KnowMoreAboutHIV).”

“Rated+ Let’s Talk about You and Me” is a university caravan which combines the technical expertise of ARG of the DOH-RITM and the science communication expertise of the CDC-UPLB in reaching out and bringing the discussion of HIV/AIDS closer to the Filipino youth through multimedia and interpersonal platforms. For additional information, visit their Rated+ Facebook page, Twitter account @RatedPlus, or reach them via e-mail at [email protected]

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