December 8, 2023
INTERNATIONAL AIDS MEMORIAL — In memory of those who perished and in solidarity with people living with HIV, groups joined the two international candlelight memorials conducted at the Saint Louis Center Hall and at City Hall on May 29 and 30, respectively. — Ofelia Empian

As a way of committing to a community that promotes self-care and rejects stigma and discrimination, the city government marked the annual International AIDS Candle Light Memorial not just by lighting a candle, but also by holding an awarding ceremony for entertainers who religiously submit themselves to regular smear test and medical check-up.

At least 10 workers in entertainment clubs and bars in the city were awarded a certificate of appreciation for submitting themselves for smear test and being negative of infections from January to May this year as one of the highlights of the global AIDS candle light memorial held every third Sunday of May.

For having a clean bill of health for the past five months through a weekly check-up, the night workers were also given free smear test from June to December, provided they maintain negative results.

Mental health advocate and City Health Services Office nurse Ricky Ducas said the awarded workers are considered an epitome of those working in hotspots who take care of themselves by religiously having themselves checked.

The deed, he said, should help in eliminating the stigma attached to those who have themselves screened for infections, especially those that are sexually transmitted like HIV and AIDS.

The city joined the annual memorial candle lighting to commemorate those who have lost their lives to HIV-AIDS and to come together as a community to show support to people living with HIV (PLHIV-AIDS) and to renew its commitment to end HIV-AIDS stigma.

Acting CHSO Head, Dr. Celia Flor Brillantes said the event is also an opportunity to honor those who dedicate their lives to helping people living with and infected by HIV-AIDS and continuing to mobilize communities in solidarity.

This year’s commemoration highlights the stigma and self-stigma experienced by PLHIV-AIDS, with the theme “Spread love and solidarity, not stigma and fear”.

“It is time to change the narrative. We want to speak boldly of self stigma, the pain it causes us, the increasing need for mental health services; and the power of self-worth, self-love, and solidarity,” she said.

She thanked the Department of Health for providing anti retroviral medicines given to PLHIV-AIDS in the city, who are now mostly at an undetectable status or on whom the HIV is no longer detected in their body or have very low viral load.

Since monitoring started in 1994, Baguio has recorded 549 HIV cases as of September 2022.

Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda, chair of the city council committee on health and sanitation, said the memorial candle lighting was an appropriate time to review the commitment of the city as embodied in Ordinance 16, s. 2022 where the city mandates the formulation and implementation of a long-term local HIV-AIDS prevention and control program that upholds human dignity; recognizes right to health by providing medical and social assistance to persons living with HIV-AIDS; provides gender sensitive HIV-AIDS information and education which should include modules on how to accept PLHIV without stigma and discrimination; ensure confidentiality of records; no compulsory or mandatory testing but testing is encou-raged; and adopts a whole of community approach.

Mayor Benjamin Magalong said education and awareness remains the city’s “most powerful weapon” in the fight against HIV-AIDS.

“We must continue to educate our youth, families, and communities of the risks and the prevention available to us. We must ensure accurate information is shared as well, to provide us informed choices and decisions. But education is not enough. We must also work tirelessly to provide the needed services and intervention and have a society that embraces diversity and rejects discrimination,” Magalong said.

He also called for the renewal of commitment for those who continue to fight the disease, namely the health workers, researchers, and activists who dedicate their lives to finding a cure and improve the lives of those infected by investing in their work and advocacy for related policies.

“Let the candles symbolize not only the lives but also the hope that burns within us. Let them remind us that our progress is not measured solely by the number of lives saved, but by the compassion we shared, the lives we touch, and what the community is trying to do,” he added. – Hanna C. Lacsamana