December 6, 2023
IN MEMORIAM — The Baguio City AIDS Watch Council spearheaded a candlelight memorial at City Hall on May 30 in support of  40th international AIDS candlelight memorial this year, where advocates, in partnership with the government and civil society seek to end the stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, in order for them to not be afraid to get the life-saving treatments accorded to them for free. — Ofelia Empian

Many people li-ving with HIV/AIDS are not able to get the help they need because of the stigma and shame associated with their disease according to the HIV/AIDS Core Team (HACT) of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.

BGH HACT Chairman Dr. Bernard Demot, during the AIDS candlelight memorial on May 29 at the Saint Louis University, said there are already advances in technology to treat HIV and is readily available in BGH, however, many PLHIVs in the Cordillera are not reaching out due to stigma.

Records show there are 43 cases of HIV/AIDS from January to March in the Cordillera with Baguio City listing 25, Abra with eight, Apayao with four, Benguet with three, Ifugao with two, and Kalinga with one case.

Most of the casesbelong to the 25 to 34 years old age group while the youngest case belongs to the 15 to 24 year old group. Some of the patients at the BGH treatment hub are also from Palawan and Mindanao.

Demot said even with their data of PLHIVs since 2006, the highest cases with 475 affected individuals belong to the 25 to 34 year old age, with a median age of 28 years old. 

Since 2006, the HACT has listed 978 cases with 143 deaths. 

Demot said agencies and civil society organizations need to work together to encourage more people at risk to get tested, and once tested, they must have the support system of the community for them to get treatment.

“It is my hope that in this lifetime, that I will see that HIV patients hindi na sila magtatago, that PLHIVs will not die due to HIV/AIDS complications.They will die not with shame but with integrity,” Demot said.

BGH is identified as one of the HIV treatment hubs in the country, which has an organized HACT that facilitates in-patient and out-patient prevention, treatment, care and support services to PLHIV including but not limited to antiretroviral therapy, HIV testing services, clinical management, patient monitoring, and other care and support services.

Health officials are eyeing to put up more HIV treatment hubs even at the Benguet General Hospital in La Trinidad, Benguet and at Luis Hora Memorial Regional Hospital in Bauko, Mountain Province to make it more accessible to individuals who want to get tested.

For Christian (not his real name), a PLHIV since 2013, he said that HIV is not a death sentence because there are available treatments such as the antiretroviral treatments that are given for free by the treatment hubs.

He said after getting the necessary treatment since being diagnosed, he is able to live and function normally in the society despite having HIV. Though it was a struggle accepting the diagnosis at first, but with the help and support of his family and the health care professionals treating him, he was able to slowly overcome his situation.

Executive Secretary-Director of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)- Episcopal Commission on Health Care Father Dan Cancino, in his homily during the memorial, said it is the duty of one another to love, and to be able to love is to find true love from the source of love itself, God.

Cancino urged everyone to love the outcasts of the society, even the PLHIVs for them to know that they are not alone in their struggle. He said this is also embedded in this year’s memorial theme, “Spread love and solidarity to build stronger communities.”

The candlelight memorial led by the CBCP, was also attended by city officials, Baguio Association of Night Spots (BANS, formerly Babes) and PLHIVs and advocates to end the stigma against PLHIVs. – Ofelia C. Empian