In February 2019, there were 1,013 confirmed HIV-positive individuals reported to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines. Taking the top spot is NCR with 328 cases reported (32%). Following NCR are Region 4A with 171 cases (17%) and Region 3 with 122 cases (12%). Read more here.
This alarming rate of new HIV cases, specifically in Olongapo, is rooted in the lack of knowledge about HIV awareness and prevention. The same reason paved the way for the Rotary Club of Downtown Olongapo (RCDO) to bridge the gap that has long been hidden in the dark.
Headed by RCDO President, Ms. Mary Grace Mana-ay, RCDO spearheaded the first HIV Awareness and Prevention seminar in Olongapo. For the longest time, the RCDO has been tackling its “Areas of Focus” under disease prevention and treatment as well as maternal and child health. Both of these address the needs of the specific minority groups.
But with the changing needs of the time, so as the need to refocus as to where the club must direct its effort in addressing certain causes and issues in the community. Hence, for the first time in the club’s existence, it sheds light into one of the most taboo issues plaguing the country today: HIV/AIDS.
Olongapo is a juxtaposition of extremes: once a “sin city” during the 60s and 70s and yet cradled into the unwritten conservative heritage of our culture–even today. Such extremes cannot meet at one point making some issues hidden from the light and dare not be talked about out in the open. This is obviously manifested with the lack of knowledge of the people, especially the youth, regarding HIV/AIDS as indicated with the increasing HIV cases in the city and the whole of Region III.
Last April 27, 2019 at RMT Restobar, RCDO, together with Rotary Club Sunrise, held is first “HIV Awareness & Prevention Seminar.” The speakers were both DOH-Certified HIV Counselors and HIV advocates. Both heeded the call of volunteerism to be the voice of the cause and to combat the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Jeron Osiana, the founder of Red Tent Philippines, first gave his talk about the basics of HIV. He discussed comprehensively things that people ought to know about HIV/AIDS and even dispelled myths to do away with the misconceptions present among the audience.
In addition, he garnered praises and admirations from the crowd when he shared that he, himself, is a person living with HIV (PLHIV) and is still living a quality life for nearly 10 years now. It led to an open door for the audience to ask more questions that, indeed, made a positive conversation about HIV/AIDS. He then ended his talk with his inspirational parting words,
We must all FLY: first, love yourself. And we must all show other people CARE–choose to COMMIT, choose to ACCEPT, choose to RESPECT, and choose to EMPOWER.
On the other hand, we cannot talk about HIV/AIDS without talking about stigma and discrimination. So much so with the rampant cyberbullying that this internet generation is known for. As an advocacy blogger and owner of BaklaPoAko.com (a blog advocating for HIV awareness, LGBT issues, and the purchasing power of the pink peso), Mr. Joemar Belleza took the stage next about “Social Media As A Weapon For HIV/AIDS Prevention & Stigma Reduction.”
As a blogger himself, he has seen the wrath of people when it comes to stigma and discrimination against the issue of HIV/AIDS. He ended the talk with,
Each and every one of you holds, figuratively and literally, one of the best weapons of reducing the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS: phones for responsible use of social media.
You don’t need to be a person living with HIV to talk about HIV, you just need to be human. It is when we make a digital footprint of positive impact for a positive cause.
Joemar also shared a video of his finals in Ateneo Graduate School of Business to show why he has been advocating for HIV awareness despite the stigma that goes with it. Watch his video presentation below:
Pres. Mary Grace Mana-ay hopes that this initiative will open new doors for others to follow suit. That this will be a roundtable of a positive dialogue among the young, the affected demographics, the club, the government, and the community as a whole. That maybe, just maybe, this baby step can actually make a difference.
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