HIV or the human immunodeficiency virus is a major health problem among Filipinos. Since 1984, approximately 78,000 HIV cases have been reported and the latest HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines reports an average of 21 Filipinos diagnosed with HIV every day this year.
While strides have been made over the years in addressing HIV among Filipinos, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how much more work needs to be done.
Although HIV cannot be cured, it can be treated through anti-retroviral therapy (ART). Through ART, an individual’s HIV viral load in the blood can be reduced to an undetectable level.
Studies have found that among people living with HIV (PLHIV) who maintain an undetectable viral load, HIV cannot be transmitted through sex. This is a monumental and life-changing progress in HIV/AIDs treatment and care. Because of this treatment, an HIV diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it once was.
An essential element of anti-retroviral therapy is consistency. People living with HIV need to take their HIV medications every day to maintain the undetectable viral load. Thankfully, several treatment hubs and care facilities have been established all over the country.
As of March 2020, around 45,000 PLHIV were reported to be receiving their anti-retroviral therapy. However, the patient to treatment hub ratio, especially in regions outside Metro Manila, reveals that more can be done for HIV prevention and treatment in the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not made this any easier. As a response to the pandemic, the Philippine government enacted a community quarantine that has lasted nearly eight months now, with public transportation still largely limited.
The lockdown presents roadblocks in HIV treatment and care, especially for those who need refills of their anti-retroviral therapy medication.
Part of mitigating HIV among Filipinos is access to regular HIV testing, but face-to-face consultations and counseling can no longer be done because of the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
An average of 21 Filipinos are diagnosed with HIV every day this year.
During this pandemic, PLHIV should not have to choose between the coronavirus and HIV.
Thankfully, there are organizations that have been working hard to adapt to the restrictions brought by the pandemic. LoveYourself Inc. and The Red Whistle have been long-standing advocates for HIV/AIDS awareness, policy and services in the country.
Their community-based approach has helped them keep track of the changing needs of PLHIV in the country. Their work in the past eight months have helped to continue HIV treatment and care for Filipinos.
LoveYourself Inc. was founded by Vinn Pagtakhan as a response to the growing interest and concern of the Filipino youth towards the HIV/AIDS problem in the country.
It offers free HIV treatment, testing, and counseling through seven community centers. Aside from HIV testing and counseling, LoveYourself Inc. provides other resources that promote and advance sexual health at the community level.
It’s responding to the restraints of the COVID-19 pandemic by offering ARV (anti-retroviral) refills through their XPress Refill service. Clients of LoveYourself community centers can now sign up for ART refills online and have their medication delivered to their homes.
Because of anti-retroviral therapy (ART), an HIV diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it once was.
Services offered: HIV testing and counseling, hormone management, Pre-GAS (gender-affirming surgery) assessment and counseling, PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) services, ARV Refill (Xpress Refill).
Community centers: Taft Avenue, Manila; Espana, Manila; Pasay; Mandaluyong; Parañaque; Bacoor, Cavite; Cebu.
The Red Whistle is a collaboration of artists, community members, and advocates for HIV/AIDS awareness and sexual health. Their goal is to use social media and the visual arts to empower communities to raise awareness about HIV and the need for safer sex practices.
In response to the pandemic, The Red Whistle is collaborating with MapBeks, TFL-Share, Angkas, DOH, and UNAIDS to connect PLHIV for ARV refills with treatment hubs and clinics.
They have identified several HIV care facilities all over the country offering ARV refills and provide contact information that will help PLHIV connect with the nearest facility. They have also opened their program to volunteers from Angkas drivers who wish to help deliver ARV refills to those living far away from treatment hubs.
Services offered: ARV refill and delivery.