June 24, 2024

In an effort to remove the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, the Baguio City Health Services Office (CHSO) is trying to make testing for HIV/AIDS a common practice among individuals, whether at risk or not, who want to have themselves regularly screened for the infection.

Assistant City Health Officer Celia Flor Brillantes said the CHSO, along with its partners and volunteers, is working on sustaining its HIV/AIDS screening program that includes encouraging anyone to have themselves tested, even in public places, with the goal of checking one’s infection status without feeling being discriminated upon but accepted as an important routine health check.

To increase awareness and erase such stigma on those living with or might be carriers of the virus causing HIV/AIDS, a sexually transmitted infection, the CHSO has started supporting the conduct of free HIV screening publicly, in particular during the recent Session Road in Bloom where anyone could have themselves tested for HIV/AIDS.

Also, in celebration of the International AIDS Candle Lighting Memorial 2022, a free HIV screening was held during the Harrison Road night market last May 19 and 20 from 9 p.m. to midnight at the Ganza parking lot for everyone to “know their HIV, get tested, and end the stigma.”

“We aim to make it known we should not be stigmatized when we undergo HIV screening and we don’t need to discriminate those who want to get HIV tested to know their status, no matter if one is at risk or not. We want to ‘commonize’ it, like when we get tested for diabetes or tuberculosis, because we want everybody to know na OK lang magpa-HIV test and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about it,” Brillantes said.

She said the CHSO plans to continue the free HIV screening for everybody, especially night workers, through what they call “sundown testing,” where screening is done from 5 to 11 p.m. to accommodate those who wanted to get tested for HIV after office hours anywhere and anytime.

Aside from its regular information campaign, Brillantes said the CHSO continues to be active on its official social media accounts to spread HIV/AIDS awareness to encourage the public to start opening their eyes and revolutionizing their minds regarding the infection, and to support instead of discriminating people living with AIDS or those who want to know their status.   

She noted HIV/AIDS cases nationwide shot up during the height of Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and is continuing to increase during the first quarter of 2022, attributed to the fact many had to stay at home due to the series of lockdowns to stop Covid-19 virus transmission and due to the disruption in the delivery of and access to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services.

Recent data on HIV/AIDS cases in the country shows an alarming rate, with a total of 12,341 new HIV infections recorded in 2021 alone which is 54 percent higher than infections detected in 2020, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the National HIV/AIDS Registry to 94,337.

As of December 2021, a total of 56,385 Filipinos living with HIV are undergoing lifelong antiretroviral treatment.

With help from private sector partners and youth volunteers that have also made the HIV/AIDS prevention campaign a community-based effort, Brillantes said the city’s AIDS Watch Council is reinforced more than ever, aside from the AWAC having strong leadership through the mayor and with the active support of the CHSO, Department of Health, and Family Planning Organization of the Philippines among others.

“Let’s be open to the idea of getting tested as a common health precaution and face the fact that HIV/AIDS exists, therefore the need for regular screening, which is something we need to sustain. Let’s commonize it and anyone who wants to get tested should not be condemned,” Brillantes said. – Hanna C. Lacsamana