Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

The HIV Scene

Gasp! Is there really HIV in the Philippines?

Yes. Need a reality check? The first case of HIV in the Philippines was reported way back in 1984. The UNAIDS and the WHO (World Health Organization) estimated that as of 2007, around 8,300 people are currently living with HIV in the Philippines. Though this is less than 0.01% of the Philippine population, it is a huge jump from the 2001 estimate of less than 1,000 persons infected with the virus. Plus, these numbers are only that: estimates. We can only imagine how many more remain unaccounted for.

As of May 2010, a total of 5,124 Filipinos have been diagnosed with HIV according to the Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry of the Department of Health. For the whole of 2008, a total of 528 were diagnosed. For 2009, a total of 835. But from January to May 2010 alone, already 700 were diagnosed. That should put a trend to things.

How prepared is our country for HIV, in medical terms?

All laboratory tests (i.e. viral load, CD4 count, genotyping for drug resistance, blood test for monitoring drug toxicities, monitoring for response to medication) are all available in the country, but limited to specialized centers only.
In terms of physicians, there are several HIV/AIDS specialists in the country, most of who work in government hospitals or treatment hubs. And there are also private doctors – particularly those with a specialization in infectious diseases – who may also be consulted regarding HIV.

General practitioners, on the other hand, despite having the educational background on HIV/AIDS, may have very limited or no experience in handling cases of patients infected with the virus. Thus, special training programs are being developed to ensure that every doctor is capable of handling cases of HIV, at least at the primary level.

Lastly, with regard to medication, anti-retroviral therapy is available in the Philippines. Treatment is based on local guidelines that simplify and standardize treatment, in order for all doctors to be able to manage patients on such medication.

Is the government working actively to prevent the spread of HIV?

Yes. The government, through the National AIDS/STD Prevention and Control Program as well as through the National AIDS Council, is doing its best to educate the public and prevent the spread of HIV. Also, there are NGOs that work closely with the government to deal with education and prevention.

What is R.A. 8504?

Republic Act 8504 is The Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998. It was approved in February 1998 during the term of former president Fidel V. Ramos.

It is basically a Philippine law that institutionalizes government efforts to:
• inform and educate the public about HIV and AIDS;
• prevent, control and monitor the spread of HIV and AIDS; and,
• care and protect people living with HIV and AIDS.

It sounds serious, but if you think about it, it’s meant not just to benefit those living with HIV and AIDS, but also the general population through awareness. Very Positivism, is it not?

How does R.A. 8504 benefit the HIV-positive?

R.A. 8504 outlines the health and support services that must be made available to Filipinos living with HIV and AIDS. These include hospital-based services, community-based services, and livelihood & training programs. It even provides the mandate for concerned agencies to at least study the viability of providing insurance benefits to people living with HIV.

R.A. 8504 also protects a person living with HIV and AIDS by ensuring their privacy and confidentiality, including his or her test result, identity, HIV-status and medical records among others. The HIV-positive are also assured that they shall not be disclosed unknowingly by establishing consent as a requisite to HIV-testing.

It also prohibits discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS in several venues, such as in the workplace, in schools and in hospitals, as well as in cases of public services, travel, credit and insurance services, and morbid as it may seem, even burial services. Discrimination is also avoided by prohibiting compulsory HIV testing.

The best part? R.A. 8504 actually empowers Filipinos living with HIV and AIDS by acknowledging their role in spreading awareness about the condition.

Is there anything in R.A. 8504 for the HIV-negative?

Just as in the spirit of Positivism, R.A. 8504 actually strives to keep those who are HIV-negative… negative. How? By increasing awareness among the general population through HIV education campaigns in schools, workplaces and communities, as well as among migrants coming into and leaving the country.

It also reiterates the importance of safe practices in surgical procedures, as well as in blood, tissue and organ donation, which are also keys in reducing the spread of the virus.

What if I don’t know whether I’m negative or positive?

Not sure where you belong? R.A. 8504 has something for you too. It institutionalizes the accreditation of HIV testing centers, and makes HIV counseling a standard procedure both before and after HIV testing. It also offers some security to those who want to get tested by allowing anonymous HIV testing, wherein codenames or aliases may be used instead of real names for identification.

Are the HIV-positive forced by law to disclose their HIV status?

In some cases, yes. Aside from legal proceedings and invasive medical procedures where disclosure of one’s HIV-positive status may be called for, R.A. 8504 states that “Any person with HIV shall be obligated to disclose his/her HIV status and health condition to his/her spouse or sexual partner at the earliest opportune time”. Not discounting the fact that it is each person’s responsibility to protect him or herself, “obligated”, meaning forced, required or compelled, is clear enough and seems to put some teeth to it; but then “opportune”, meaning appropriate, favorable or suitable, seems dependent on the discretion of the individual. This leaves it subject to some esep-esep, don’t you think?