Four Years and the Philippine HIV Scene

Posted by Pozziepinoy on 7:25 PM
September is the anniversary month of the Project Red Ribbon. It is the month when I started the advocacy when I got diagnosed to have HIV and AIDS. 

Since 2011, TRR has addressed the issues of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines from direct care of people living HIV and clients for HIV testing to lobbying for changes in national policies and programs.

What are our accomplishments?

1. The National Hotline Assistance has entertained more than ten thousand calls, more than five thousand referrals to our TRR Care Programs and welfare programs of the government.

2. The TRR websiste/blog is still the number one HIV blog in the country, addressing issues of HIV from all over the world, promotion of different HIV programs nationwide, promotion of the Love Fund.

3. Care Assistance Program has assisted more than five thousand people with medical assistance from the TRR Love Fund.

4. Accomplished monthly programs like:
    a. Support Group Talks
    b. Outreach Programs
    c. Team Buildings for PLHIV
    d. HIV Education and Awareness Talks (HEAT) in schools, companies and barangays
    e. Medical Assistance through Love Fund
    f. Online Support Group

5. Partnership with:
    a. Department of Health, National AIDS/STI Prevention and Control Program
    b. Research Institute for Tropical Medicine
    c. The Love Yourself, Inc.
    d. Asia and the pacific Islanders Coalition on HIV and AIDS, New York
    e. Bliss Lubricants
    f. American Foundation for AIDS Research / Treat Asia (IACM 2015)
    g. Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office
    h. Department of Social Welfare and Development
    i. Baguio Support Group
    j. Wester Visayas Support Group
   k. Yoga for Life
   l. National Council of Churches in the Philippines
   m. Bacolod LGBT 
   n. Manila Pride Council
   o. Philippine Health Insurance

6. Rallied for the release of ARV's in the Bureau of Customs in 2014

7. Assisted in purchasing ARV's from India (2014) and Thailand (2015)

8. Pioneered the new guidelines in PhilHealth including accreditation of social hygiene 
    clinics and formation of trust funds for ARV.

9. Condom and lubricant distribution, fluconazole courtesy of DOH-NASPCP

10. Established referral system between TRR and
      a. Pinoy Plus
      b. all treatment hubs
      c. Social Hygiene Clinics
      d. Different support groups
      e. specialty doctors: surgeons, dentists, pulmonologists, GI doctors, nephrologists, etc.

11. Media Coverage of TRR Programs and PLHIV testimonials

12. Assisted college and university students in theses and research work

13. Commemorated the highly participated, yearly
      a. International AIDS Candlelight Memorial
      b. World AIDS Day

14.  TV and movie personality HIV and AIDS campaigns 

15. DOH National Communications Partner (2015)

16. Road to Awareness Program of the HEAT Team partnering with schools, organizations, 
      barangays.

17. HIV in the Workplace Policy Writing for companies

18. National HIV Testing Week Campaigns (2015): Press conferences, poster making


For four years, TRR has these realizations:

1. People are still dying because of AIDS here in the Philippines:
    a. Because of late testing and treatment due to stigma and discrimination and   
        inadequate national information campaigns
    b. Inadequate HIV health services and inadequate facilities in HIV and AIDS Treatment 
        Hubs
    c. Poor welfare government programs for people living with AIDS:
       i. People stop taking ARVs because they can't afford to go to treatment hubs due to 
           inaccessibility
       ii. People can't afford to be ambulanced from their homes to the hospital
       iii. Expensive management and treatment of opportunistic infections related to HIV
    d. Some treatment Hubs don't file their patients PhilHealth remittances, thus patients 
        don't avail the laboratory tests due to them.
       
2. Up to now the Department of Health has no line item for HIV. The budget for HIV is shared with the other infection- line item. Most of the funds go to treatment rather than prevention campaigns.

3. Different non-government organizations don't get along. Some remain to be focused on 
    work and employment rather than on service and addressing the real issue of HIV in the 
    country.

4. The Department of Labor and Employment has no teeth in implementing the HIV in the Workplace Policy as mandated by the RA 8504 or the Philippine HIV Law. Because of these,
    a. Companies and institutions don't know how to address the issue of stigma and discrimination,the rights of employees to be informed about HIV and AIDS, the rights of people living with HIV, etc.
    b. DOLE continues to give fines (P300-P500) to companies that don't have HIV in the Workplace Policy when in fact, the cases of HIV and people dying from HIV continue to increase.

5. Welfare Programs are poor in the country. 
    a. The Department of Social Welfare and Development can only provide:
        i. P5,000 per PLHIV for medical or financial assistance every 3 months
       ii. Educational Assistance of P5,000 per semester
       iii. Burial Assistance of P5,000
       iv. Livelihood Program of P10,000
       ***DSWD Requires a lot of documents prior to assistance.
    b. Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office requires a lot of documents prior to assistance.
    c. The RED TAPE KILLS! Care should be the priority and the documents should just follow after
        the assistance.

6. Insufficient Health Insurance:    
    a. PhilHealth Outpatient HIV and AIDS Treatment Package
        i. Only covers P30,000 per year
       ii. No monitoring and punishments for treatment hubs that don't file their patients  
          remittances
       iii. No coverage of in-patient hospitalization for crypto-meningits and CMV Retinitis, 
           two of the most expensive AIDS related infections
    b. HMO's
        i. Still continue to NOT to cover HIV and AIDS related conditions
        ii. Doctor's don't disclose the HIV status to help clients with HIV
        iii. Companies are not empowered to fight for the rights of PLHIV to have HMO 
             coverage for the AIDS related infections 

7. Stigma and Discrimination is strong in the country
    a. People are scared to get tested and even be seen in HIV testing centers
    b. People are scared to get treatment and be seen in HIV treatment Hubs
    c. PLHIV still get rejected in hospitals for treatment of AIDS related infections
    d. Government Institutions don't prioritize HIV programs even though the registry shows 
        that it is already an epidemic
    e. Government institutions continue to stigmatize the MSM community as the population 
        to focus on when it comes to HIV and AIDS
    f. NGO's add to stigma and discrimination by "sensationalizing" HIV with MSM

8. NO strong, regular NATIONAL campaign against HIV and AIDS

9. Media is weak in triggering a response from the Philippine population. Every month, media will just capture the data from the HIV and AIDS Registry released by the DOH but fails to do investigative reporting, expose the institutions that are not aggressive in stopping this epidemic.

10. The religious sector still don't encourage the use of condoms to prevent HIV. Though there are now condoms and lubricants in shops, stores and groceries, the mentality because of strong religious foundation continue to stop people from using protection during sex.

11. Sex and HIV education is weak in the educational system in the country. Sex and HIV continue to not be discussed freely in schools, universities and even at home.

12. The Department of Foreign Affairs continues to turn a blind eye on the way OFW diagnosed with HIV gets deported and treated (as criminals) in muslim countries and in Singapore. 

What Needs to Be Done?

The Philippine HIV Problem is about to explode anytime. As the HIV cases and HIV death rates continue to increase, the government continues to be burdened. 

Focus and aggressive actions are needed:

1. The Politicians need to address the HIV issue NOW.
2. Increase the HIV Budget by making an HIV Line item in DOH.
3. Aggressive Prevention Programs in all sectors of society.
4. Engage all government sectors, especially the Department of Education to have sex education and HIV curriculum; DOLE to punish gravely those who do not have HIV in the Workplace Policy; Department of Justice to have programs for PLHIV who have been stigmatized and discriminated; the  DOH to discredit hospitals, clinics and doctors that don't follow the RA 8504; the Department of Foreign Affairs to have a dialogue with muslim countries and Singapore for humane treatment of OFW-PLHIVs
5. Massive National Awareness Campaigns and media investigating government officials not prioritizing HIV and AIDS Programs, process and quality of the health care system
6. Make the welfare programs better so that indigent people with HIV can access quality health care and continue their healthy lifestyles.
7. Companies need to be empowered to push for HMOs to include AIDS related conditions in their coverages
8. Strong dialogue with religious institutions about HIV and AIDS and condom use.
9. Strong promotion and encouragement of HIV testing and condom use in all sectors of society.
10. NGO's need to focus on what needs to be done and start clamoring for aggressive programs from government, business sector and institutions.

Since TRR started in 2011, it has experienced the rapid increase of HIV cases and AIDS related deaths (accounted and unaccounted). Four years and we are still addressing the same issues. When will we learn? When will we start to be aggressive with our programs to stop the epidemic. When are we going to rally STRONGLY against HIV and AIDS?

The call to action is NOW! We can still make the epidemic stop...