Friday, December 07, 2012

Forum on Zero AIDS-Free Generation

Promotional poster of the event

MANILA, Philipines - Bloggers have been invited to The Old Spaghetti House, UP Techno Hub, December  7, convene for their awareness on the rapid increase of HIV cases in the country, and unfortunately places us in the list of the only 9 countries left such a trend of newly registered HIV cases. Note that the entire world, otherwise, have either halted their growth in number, or are decreasing it.

Spearheaded by Blogwatch, in partnership with Department of Health (DOH), Philippines Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), Kabataan Partylist, with the support of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Join United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The forum was opened by Ana P. Santos, a known soldier for women's reproductive and sexual health rights and editor of the website Sex and Sensibilities. She mentioned the importance of recruiting the help of bloggers in advocating for the spread of HIV awareness.

Speakers include Mr. Romeo Dongeto, Executive Director of PLCPD, pointing out the necessity of passing vital legislation (specifically the much debated Reproductive Health Bill), to help erase the country from the list with increasing new HIV cases. He mentioned that, even though the bill does have women's sexual and reproductive health rights, the benefits of having it become a law encompasses the prevention of the HIV epidemic from growing any further.

Ms.Bai Bagasao, Country Director of UNAIDS Philippines, discussed the global and regional situation of the population and HIV. She focused on the importance of making sure that the situation be capped-off immediately. Also mentioned were the Key Affected Population (KAP) such as sex workers, males who have sex with males, and people who inject drugs. She concluded her report by saying that given the projection of the epidemic and the current business model, it will be hard to contain this problem. She suggest that the country should strengthen the knowledge on the KAP and prioritize their access to services. These changes would be the best way to focus the strategies.

Photo by Noem Lardizabal-Dado (@momblogger)

Ana, follow-up Ms. Bagasao's report, with specific details about the Key Affected Population. People who inject drugs are at high-risk because of the direct exposure to the blood stream. Males who have sex with males (MSM) are given focus because of the common mistake that when you are MSM, you're gay. Wrong. She mentions that there are MSM guys who are straight, it just so happens that they engage in sexual activities with other guys, with varied reasons. Also there is a growing focus on intimate relations transmission, where in the Person Living with HIV (PLHIV) was not infected because of their risky behavior but because they were infected by their partner. The highest number of

The last speaker, Mr. Mar Tucay, Executive Vice President of the Kabataan Party-list, expressed that it is their priority to make sure that the epidemic will be given the needed attention especially since it is greatly affected by this.

The floor was opened and we opened the question as to what can people online do to help spread the awareness. Ms. Bagasao, mentioned that the action plan is all up to the person who uses the internet. But basically, it's all about blogging about it, or even tweeting it. It might not start out to be hard core information, but opening discussion is always a start, especially towards the KAP. Another is lowering the stigma about sex, what more about MSM sex? It's about thinking of ways to make them comfortable, letting them know that HIV is not a death sentence. The more people who come out to have themselves tested, the better for the country. "It's not the virus, but the discrimination that would kill the person."

Mr. Dongeto says that bloggers can help inform the public by putting a face to the current KAP. Then it was women like Dolsura Cortez, but now it's all about MSM, like Wanggo Gallaga. The younger generation is vital in helping the spread of the infection, since the young people are almost always online.

Nurse Alvin Dakis, member of Philippine Health Bloggers Society, brought up the topic of an occurrence where in a blog posted numerous photos of people and claim that they were HIV positive. He asked how can the Philippine AIDS Law (RA 8504), help out with these cases. Ms. Bagasao responds, that it'll be a very sensitive issues since disclosure by others (true or not) greatly affects people because of their fear of discrimination. That's why we rely on the people who have had themselves tested, as well as the positive community, to help decrease and hopefully do away with the stigma associated with HIV.

Another issue that came out is the misinformation served to the young people both about reproductive health, the RH Bill, and HIV. Ms. Bagasao stressed that there is a need to look at and scrutinize our laws. There's a law where in it says that a person can legally have sexual relations with an adult as early as 12 years of age, yet your access to reproductive and health services is only allowed when you reach the age of 18. You're only allowed to be given these services below 18 when you've got the consent of your parents or guardian. She sought out the help of the Kabataan Party-list to ensure that these issues would be addressed.

The forum ended with a strong call to action by the organizers to the bloggers to help in whatever way they could. To learn about RA 8504, the Philippines AIDS Law, put the spotlight on the problems that could be seen, both online and in real life. To be vigilant and pro-active. Because it is the knowledge and removing the risky behavior of the public is the way to achieve the goal of "Getting to Zero".


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