Melchora’s fight continues for PLHIV and mental health sectors

by Elysse Bejar

People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and mental health are two of the country’s neglected sectors, more especially as the pandemic has added to the challenges for people to receive testing, consultation, and treatment with the prevailing COVID-19 virus. The latest 2020 data from the HIV/AIDS & Art Registry of the Philippines shows that there are 11,850 reported cases of HIV in the region of CALABARZON from 1984 until 2020.

But just like Melchora Aquino who treated the wounded and the sick in the face of battle, Joy Daguiso and Bubbles Rosos, RN from Love Yourself Inc. are two frontliners in this time of crisis, who would not allow the pandemic to stop them from fulfilling their advocacy and duty to serve their patients.

Modern Melchora: women front liners share their journey of service as they brave the challenges brought by the pandemic during the Melchora sa Panahon ng Pandemya: Mga Kwento ng mga Kababaihang Frontliners webinar last March 31, 2022.

‘The need for them to have that space’

Daguiso is a program lead for Flourish, the mental health arm of Love Yourself Inc., which aims to increase mental health awareness, provide counseling services, and direct linkages for people to mental health facilities. 

As a graduate of BS Psychology from the Trinity University of Asia, and having previous experiences as a guidance counselor, Daguiso is well aware of the pressing need for access to professional mental health services for students and especially to the LGBTQ community and the other sectors under it, such as the transgenders and other gender-diverse groups.

“Nakita namin yung diversity noong needs ng iba’t ibang mga sectors under din ng [LGBTQ] community. Na-develop pa lalo ang programs natin on sexual health, trans-health, and mental health. Nakikita natin na, moving forward, where do we want to go and ano pa yung gusto nating maitulong pa sa community para sila mismo ay ma-empower at magtuloy-tuloy sila sa buhay nila,” she remarked as she recalled her motivations for serving her clients. 

It is a notable concern that members of gender-diverse communities face stigma from the larger society, and so Love Yourself Inc. has been especially established to cater to the specific health needs of the particular community.

“It comes from our passion for the community na makatulong talaga sa advocacy. Doon siya nanggagaling – our sense of community and the need for them to have that space,” she added.

Other than offering mental health services, Love Yourself Inc. is also the first clinic in the country to provide HIV testing and treatment under the Victoria program, a community center focused on giving services for the needs of transgender persons.

As a current HIV-STI Treatment and Trans-health nurse in Victoria, Rosos expressed her motivations as to why she continues to press on for her patients.

“‘Pag naririnig ko sila na nagshe-share ng different stories nila with their HIV journey, somehow nahahabag ako kung paano nila nilalabanan yung mga situations na na-e-encounter nila. So ‘pag nakikita ko sila na nagiging okay na at masaya na sila sa current status nila na healthy na sila ulit, ‘yun ang nagmo-motivate sa akin na ituloy ang profession ko dito sa Love Yourself.”

Their clinic provides various HIV testing and treatment services such as different antiretroviral treatment, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) for HIV-preventive measures, and Post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV-positive patients, as well as HIV screening and counseling services.

Regardless of obstacles

But as in any other health care facility, they are not exempted from the risk of exposure to COVID-19, which undoubtedly becomes an obstacle to continuing their work. However, Rosos and Daguiso both chose to press through regardless of these.

Rosos narrated how she had to rent a separate place in order to isolate herself from her family so that she could keep them from the risk of contracting the virus while still continuing her duty to her patients. 

“Iniisip ko pa rin yung wellbeing at status ng health [ng patients ko] regardless kung maapektuhan yung other aspects ng life ko… Instead na itigil ko ang work ko as a front liner, tinuloy ko pa rin kasi mas gusto ko talagang makapag-offer ng services sa aming mga clients and patients.”

However, as medical frontliners, also called as modern heroes, they are still humans and, thus, need to receive proper care. 

Daguiso shared how being able to rely on her colleagues and take care of one another helped them continue their roles as those who work on the front lines.

“Malaking factor yung sense of community namin na sama-sama kami at tulungan talaga kami in terms of checking in with ourselves.”

A Melchora’s Weapon

While it is difficult to imagine and put oneself in the shoes of a front liner who works sacrificially for the sake of others, Daguiso offers a fresh perspective that anyone can be a Melchora.

“Lahat tayo ay pwedeng maging Melchora sa panahon ng pandemya. Yung pakikipagkapwa at yung kindness are something that are innate to each and everyone of us. Sana lang magkaroon pa tayo ng mas marami pang opportunities to see that from one another,” she said.

In agreement to this, Rosos also shared the importance of having the core value of kindness. “Have the core value of being kind. Kung ang purpose mo ay gumawa ng kabutihan, lahat ng susunod ay maganda ang kakalabasan.”

The fight continues for Daguiso, Rosos, and all the other Melchora around the country as there are still many other health sectors and marginalized communities that ought to be addressed and reached. And through it all, there will always be a woman among those who are serving on the front lines – that is for sure.

Daguiso and Rosos were the resource persons of Melchora sa Panahon ng Pandemya: Mga Kwento ng mga Kababaihang Frontliners webinar, the last part of the webinar series organized by the UPLB Gender Center, Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, and UPLB Business Affairs Office held last March 31 via Zoom. 

The webinar can be replayed through this link: https://www.facebook.com/UPLBGenderCenter/videos/642571393505686.

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