Thursday, July 19, 2018

Connecting People to Information with Blued

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

Today, we make connections with each other in so many different ways. May it be through our workplace, common interests, or chance encounters, we could all learn something new about ourselves when we meet the right people. Blued is a gay social app that creates a space where people can build relationships. More than a social app, they take responsibility in looking out for their users' wellness.

LoveYourself and Blued

Blued has been a proactive supporter of LoveYourself's campaigns in their efforts to raise awareness about HIV among their users.

"Blued takes into heart our responsibility to help gay men understand HIV and get tested regularly." - Evan Tan, Blued Country Marketing Manager
Image result for blued
From HIV screening events to fundraising campaigns, they have built a relationship with LoveYourself that has enriched the community's understanding of HIV through strategic and memorable campaigns.

"HIV is not a death sentence. Take the first step, and get tested regularly. You can live your life to the fullest. With proper treatment and self-care, you can reach your full potential and live your best life." Tan shared.

Currently, they continue to rally to end the myths surrounding HIV especially when it comes to living with the virus. For Evan, taking one test can set you on your journey towards self-care.

Blued's Role in the HIV Advocacy

"We try to make conversations surrounding the HIV issue as normal as possible. Outside the Philippines, we are even helping people locate HIV testing facilities closest to them. Blued hopes to build a community of gay men who are educated about HIV and are not afraid to access testing and treatment." Tan said.

Evan shares how social apps such as Blued play a significant role in promoting self-care. By connecting the correct information and services to the right people, they can bridge the knowledge gap that is present in the community.

As the leading gay social app in the world, Blued has helped This is Me: Brave and Free to reach a total of 1,145 sign-ups - one of the highest in the history of LoveYourself's HIV screening events.

Beyond HIV

Blued has been empowering Filipino gay men when it comes to sex and sexuality. Recently, the launched a series called BluedTube that has touched on relevant topics such as coming out, bottom-shaming, and harmful gay myths. This year, they will launch the second season of their original web series Ur_Tadhana that aims to dismantle toxic masculinity and homonormativity that still lurks in the gay community.


The evolution of how people connect nowadays has affected how the message of love and self-care is delivered. With plenty of resources brought to an online platform, Blued does its part to link these opportunities to people in search. You can become part of the growing community that Blued has shaped by downloading their app on the Google Play Store and on iTunes.
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Carlos Diego is an HIV counselor and the Head of Editorial for LoveYourself. Outside of volunteering, he is a clinical audiology student and a registered psychometrician. He aims to facilitate a deeper meaning to health by discussing the importance of aural, sexual, and mental health.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Volunteer Spotlight: Robin Marero on Living with Compassion, Finding Purpose, and Forming a Family in the Advocacy

By Jean Natividad

After such great loss, Robin is determined to give back great love to the community that saw him through.

It was the year 2016, and it had been a few months since Robin's mother, Violy, passed away. She had breast cancer, but it wasn't the cancer that killed her. She was, in fact, responding well to treatment and had lived longer than the doctor's prognosis. No, she didn't die of cancer. It was a fire that, although she survived, caused her health to falter and took her away from her only son. It was also the same fire that burnt down the home they had lovingly built together over the years.

It had been a few months since Robin's mother passed away, and her son, in his prime, did not know where to begin. Robin thought to himself, "There's no purpose. Why would I build this? For whom?" But he did rebuild that house and so much more. Surely, he's done his mother proud.

Fast forward to two years later, inside his office on a rainy June day, with only the pristine walls as witness, Robin, holding back tears and dressed in his crisp deep blue shirt, told me how he did it. It wasn't easy, but he did it.

When It Rains, It Pours

To say it has been a rough few years for Robin Marero is a gross understatement. The 29-year-old community manager and LoveYourself volunteer had to say goodbye to a parent and to a home a couple years ago, and although he's smiling today, the devastating loss has left an unfillable gap in his life. Nothing, after all, can replace a mother's love.

Months after his mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2015, Robin and his family faced yet another untellable tragedy. Their home caught fire and overnight turned to ashes. Violy, who then had been responding well to chemotherapy, had another battle to conquer.


"The reason my mom died was not because of cancer. It was because our house burned down. She was undergoing treatment. The doctor said she would have a maximum of four months to live, but as we went through treatment, her life prolonged. Four months became one year. After one year, our house burned down. That was the reason my mom got very sick," Robin shared.  

Despite the snowball of misfortunes, Robin held on to hope and showed nothing but strength to his ailing mother. With a younger sister who died at age 4 (Robin was 7 then) and a mostly absent father, it was Robin and his mom against the world. "Day 1, when I found out my mom was sick, immediately it was stage 4. There was no support group. I was the only one. I was the only son, and I didn't have my father with me. So whenever I looked at my mom, I needed to be strong," he confessed.

The months that followed saw the inseparable mother and son battle cancer and start over together, until one day when Robin was left to pick up the pieces on his own. In September 2016, Violy passed on.

Onwards and Upwards

During those times of adversity, Robin also looked inward and evaluated his life. Perhaps the imminence of death, yours or a loved one's, can do that. "The main reason I joined LoveYourself was because of my mom. When my mom got sick, I just felt like I had to do something more than what I was doing."

Robin's mother passed away shortly after he joined LoveYourself in June 2016. And while his rock and number one supporter was no longer with him, Robin found a new family that made the rough roads a little easier to navigate.

"LoveYourself became my support group. I never really thought joining LoveYourself would help me go through the things I've been through... I cannot express how the organization has helped me. Even Vinn and Chris (LoveYourself founding members), everyone, they went to the wake. I was very new to the organization. I didn't really know anyone, just my batch mates. I was overwhelmed by the support. I never thought they'll be my family."

He added, "During those two years of my mom's illness and medication, there was no chance for me to cry in front of my mom. The only time I cried was when I had a support group, which was LoveYourself."

It wasn't just a community that Robin found in LoveYourself. Through the organization, he also met his partner, Francis. "Before my mom died, Francis and I became a couple, so my mom met Francis," he shared. Since then, Robin and Francis have become partners in life as well as in the advocacy.

All that support and love helped Robin start not just healing his wounds but also rebuilding the house he and his mother lost. After toiling away for two years, the house is now finished and waiting to become a home. He said, “My mom was there when we were rebuilding it. But when my mom died, I stopped for three to four months because I didn't know how to start. I thought, ‘There’s no purpose. Why will I build this? For whom?’ But being with my partner now makes it a lot easier because it has a purpose. Joining LoveYourself also gave me purpose in living."   

Life at LoveYourself

Robin serves as the Head of Program in LoveYourself's Events Committee. "LoveYourself is my avenue. Doing events makes me happy because it makes me more productive. It makes me more significant."

An experienced choreographer, Robin used his keen attention to detail and knack for planning when he started out as a coordinator. Soon enough, he learned the ins and outs of events management. He remarked, "Doing events is really hard. The expectation of the organization is high, but I don't look at it as a challenge because it makes me happy when I do those things."

His readiness to take on bigger responsibilities was tested as he spearheaded LoveYourself's 2018 Summer Camp, an out-of-town gathering of volunteers to foster camaraderie and increase volunteer engagement, last April. Robin had to jump through hoops and hurdles to make the logistically demanding event happen. He recounted, "Two weeks before the event, I was still thinking if we should push through because there were only 20 people who signed up. We were targeting 70, and that's a lot.”

But Robin pushed on and arranged, along with his team, the transportation, accommodation, food, and materials needed for the event. He tapped volunteers to spread the word despite several challenges, like people’s conflicting schedules and budget constraints. With much hard work, however, his team pushed the numbers up to 65 attendees. “It was fun. I can say it was successful because of the number of people who joined. I think I accomplished all I had to accomplish."

Needless to say, the event turned out to be a huge success, and once again, Robin was reminded of why Events is a critical arm in any organization. "As Events, I think the main purpose of this committee is to develop camaraderie and volunteer engagement because, just like Vinn said, every volunteer is the heart of the organization."

Robin is also an HIV counselor and aspires to be a life coach in the future. "When I joined LoveYourself, I didn't take any trainings because my mom died, so I thought I wasn't mentally and emotionally prepared for handling clients. It took one year for me to decide to take the training for counselors.”

His very first client turned out to be reactive for HIV, and Robin used the strength and compassion he learned from his experiences to handle the situation. He continued, "I was already emotionally ready for that because I already had my past behind me, but it brought back some emotions. It was really hard, but you need to be strong for them. I think I already had that because my mom taught me to be strong, so I already had this kind of attitude: 'Let's face the reality. Let's move on. Let's have treatment.'"

Life's Takeaways, So Far

It has been a rough few years for Robin, yes, but they are not without their victories and life lessons. Fresh from celebrating two years in the HIV advocacy, he has a few thoughts to share with current and future volunteers.

"I think, when joining an organization, you should already have certain qualities, like being friendly. I think one of the things that makes me who I am now is because of the things that happened to me in the past. It's really easy for me to connect with other people's lives. If you have this growing up, it will be easy for your to join an organization because a simple smile can brighten up a day." He added, "You need to be sensitive if a person has been going through a lot of things. I think you need to be sensitive for you to be able to become an efficient volunteer."

Another thing he stresses is staying true to your reason for joining the advocacy. He explained, "Always look back at the reason why you joined. Eventually, time will pass and you may forget the organization because you have a lot of things to do. Then one day, someone will go to you and tell you they are HIV-positive or they're going through this kind of illness, and then you go back to your organization and think of  the main reason you joined. I think it will bring back the fire. So just always look back on the first day, the reason why you joined."

Above all else, Robin lives every day following his mom's advice: "Always be strong, not for yourself but for the people around you." His strength, resilience, and compassion has brought him this far and will surely bring him further.

He concluded by sharing, "I'm still not completely over my mom's passing. I still have this thinking: 'What is all this for?' But whenever I go back to everything we shared--because it was always just me and her--I believe she already planned all the things that will happen to my life so that when a difficult time comes, I'll be ready to face anything. I'm ready to face anyone and anything, not only for myself but also for all the people who surround me and need my help.

"I feel like I was born not for my mom but for all the people who need my help because I can say that I'm really strong - in terms of pain, in terms of rejection, in terms of anything."
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Jean is an experienced digital content creator and marketer with special interest in lifestyle and technology. She volunteers for local nonprofits during her free time.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Safe, Satisfying, and Longer Lasting Sex


By Ronald Bugarin
Everyone longs for something that lasts.  May it be for our own personal career growth, romantic relationships or even sex, we always yearn for longevity that can stand the test of time.  At the same time, we want to experience also that feeling of elation which pushes us to the point of no return.

Sex should always be a healthy outlet for our deepest longings and desires for another person, especially for a male-to male interaction. It can come in different forms or methods, depending on your preference, taste and more importantly, sense of safety. For sex with relatively low risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission, frottage (dry humping) or mutual masturbation is an option to satisfy each other's need for release. You can also use sex toys which are safe and offers a different modality of sensation. But for those who desire to fully share each other’s heat through penetrative sex, it is best to follow this age old adage: “Wrap it before you tap it!”

Condoms provide effective first line of defense for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) including HIV.  When used correctly and consistently along with water based lubricants, condoms don't only ensure safety, they also prolong your connection during play time. Despite that, the 2015 Integrated HIV Behavorial and Serologic Surveillance of the Department of Health - Epidemiology Bureau, 21% of the respondents say they do not like condoms and 10% deems it not necessary. The challenge for us is to provide innovative options that would encourage everyone to use condoms with water-based lubricants.

Why Stop at 3?

Since condoms need to be changed every 15 to 20 minutes, it is essential to have enough supply on hand for uninterrupted sex. Conventional packaging of condoms currently in the market are in packs of three which may not be enough for pounding all night. Nothing takes the momentum out of sex than having to stop mid-thrust to get another pack of condoms. So don’t settle for just three!

Currently, the only brand in the market that offers four premium condoms in one pack is Bliss Four. Even with more it serves almost the same price as a three-piece box of condoms. It comes in two variants: Extra Thin for that barely there feeling, and Ribbed and Dotted to drive your partners to new heights during each thrust.




Intense Pleasures

Lubricants are used to lessen harmful friction that may damage the condom as well as to keep the anal wall lubricated for intense pleasure during hard pounding for that extra layer of protection. With BLISS Pleasure Enhancing Lubricants, more intense sensations are delivered for explosive sex that would make you oblivious to everything else.  BLISS is water-based, condom friendly and its handy packaging in sachets makes it convenient and discreet to use.

BLISS Pleasure Enhancing Lubricants comes in four different variants to suit your every sexual need:

  • Classic for that no-fuss water-based lube;
  • Ice, menthol flavored with a cool and tingling sensation upon contact;
  • Fire, cinnamon flavored to bring intense heat in every pump;
  • Glide Premium, pleasure in a bottle. it’s water-based lube designed to feel slicker, and to last longer than ordinary water-based lubricants.

All variants are water-based, edible and pH-balanced to prevent bacterial or fungal growth on your tender parts.

So what are you waiting for? Join the Revolution to a safe, satisfying and longer lasting sex!  #WhyStopAt3!


Condom Use 101

It is important to note some tips on the correct use of condom to ensure the blissful sexual revolution:

Check the labels.  Always check the labels for the expiry date, similar to food and medicine labeling..

Remove Tiny bubbles in the condom.  Air bubbles in the condom tend to tear the condom during intense sexual action.  To prevent this, squeeze the tip of the condom to release air bubbles.

Slippery when wet.  Since condoms are made of latex, it is essential to use water-based or silicone-based lubricants to avoid friction during those blissful moments which can easily tear the condom.

Change it up.  Although condoms are durable enough to withstand long hours of thrusting, it is best to change it every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid tearing or damage.

Bliss Four and Bliss Pleasure Enhancing Lubricants are available at all branches of 7-Eleven, Circle K, Lawson, Watsons, PCX, Family Mart and All Day Convenience Store.  You may also order online at Shopee Philippines and Lazada.

Illustrations by TJ Gellada Monzon
Images by Bliss
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Ron is a true blooded Banker who does events and hosting on the side. He has volunteered at LoveYourself because of his former partner was diagnosed as PLHIV

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Volunteer Spotlight: A New Queen on the Rise

By Tino Largado

When does your strength become your weakest point?

Nicole Silvestre, LoveYourself Volunteer,
on her BPO Queen 2018 experience:
“It was a battle between myself and my limitations.”
For LoveYourself Volunteer Nicole Silvestre, her confident response to this question sealed her fate on the 29th of May, 2018. Having already bested 22 other candidates vying to be the very first BPO Queen, Nicole took no time in drawing a heartfelt answer not only based from experience, but inspired by her volunteer organization, no less.

“My biggest strength will never be my weakest point because this is something I can always hold on to. I believe that loving yourself will always be your biggest strength and it will never be a weakness.”

Nicole bagged First Runner-Up at the end of the night —  a feat Nicole herself considers a satisfying end to the journey of a 26-year old BPO employee who, only months ago, had one previous office pageant and a noontime show transgender queen search on her kontesera (pageant veteran) résumé.

“This entire experience has been a test of character,” relayed Nicole. “Through it all, my takeaway has been about pushing myself. It was a battle between myself and my limitations.”

While the pageant scene comes as a new ground for Nicole to test her limits, she’s never one to shy away from previous battles, and her only desire is to educate and inspire others with her experiences. She’s aware of the responsibilities a beauty queen entails, and equipped with her passion to the advocacy, she’s eager and excited to do more.

Pageant Push

Nicole’s recent attempt at pageant success, prior to her BPO Queen stint, is on the stage of Eat Bulaga’s Super Sireyna, appearing with two other contestants on March 16th. “I just wanted to see how far I can go,” she recalls. While she didn’t win that day, her goal to find to test her limits paid off: she realized she can actually do it.

Just a couple of months fresh from an exhilarating experience on national TV, the opportunity to join BPO Queen came knocking her door. The way it promoted diversity, equality, and inclusion in the BPO industry, and how it’s finally happening for the first time this year, enticed Nicole to participate.

Not going to battle empty-handed this time, Nicole trained under Raymond Zoleta, Michael John Destar, and the team of Faces (Home of Beauty Queens). She was amazed and challenged at what she learned on how a queen walks, talks, and carries herself on-stage.

She realized the work was cut out for her the moment she qualified for BPO Queens. “I remember right after the first press conference,” she said, “when all candidates were introduced, is when I got the chance to size up the competition. I immediately told my handler: I have to train harder.” She took it upon herself to refine her opportunities and master her strengths.

She kept her eye on the prize while never forgetting that this experience offers her a chance to learn from others like her. “I’m proud of the other girls,” shared Nicole, who admits she misses the other candidates now that the pageant is over, particularly the ones she became friends with. “It’s not everyday that you get to be around people who share the same experience, industry, and passion with. It was a battle on-stage, but off-stage, it’s pretty much like hanging around with sisters.”

Nicole grabbed the chance to have a moment with Catriona Gray,
Binibining Pilipinas-Universe 2018,
at “This is Me: Brave and Free”

On top of her preparations, Nicole felt excited when she found time to spend with Binibining Pilipinas Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, who graced the Anglo site during the recently-concluded This Is Me: Brave and Free HIV-screening event. “Her presence is refreshing. She’s down to earth and comfortable to be with.” Asked about one unforgettable tip Catriona gave her before her pageant, Nicole said “Eat chocolates right after the swimsuit round. You need the sugar rush for the Q&A.”


Rediscovering Roots

When faced with life-altering decisions, Nicole responds best with perfect timing. When she started joining pageants, she had the desire, so she got the needed nudge from her friends who support her. The same is true when, at the age of 20, Nicole decided to begin her biomedical transition to as a transgender woman.

When a dear friend died at a young age, Nicole realized that, indeed, life is too short to not take your happiness upon yourself. “Do what makes you happy.” It’s a cliché for most people, until a situation makes it a reality. It’s a reality Nicole decided she wanted for herself, so when she got a slot for an internship at a hotel in Marco Island in Florida, USA, she used it to gradually perform the changes she wanted done. The circumstances seemed to align, somehow. “It helped that I was away,” explains Nicole, “because I got a chance to complete my transition without gaining a lot of outside reaction. I’m away from family and friends, even in Florida, I didn’t attract attention.”

The challenge arose when she flew back to Manila. While Nicole’s relationship with her mom remained seamless despite the change, she can’t say the same yet when it comes to her dad. Nicole’s never closing doors, though: “I believe it will happen in time.”

Her optimism extends from the confines of her family, and out to her friends, colleagues, and anyone who’s yet to understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance. “People can easily say they’re OK with it. In fact, they do, all the time. But when it happens in front of their own eyes, to someone close to them, it’s different.” Nicole is aware how this remains to be a challenge, one that lingers on even after the process of biomedical transitioning is done. Not only is she hopeful that true acceptance overcomes tolerance, she has learned to take it upon herself to do something to make it happen as well.

Instrument and Inspiration

Nicole saw an opportunity to scale up this personal challenge into an advocacy. Instead of limiting her goal of genuine acceptance to just friends and families, she recognized how transgender women like her share the same struggle around people who probably lack knowledge and sensitivity regarding Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE), react differently towards the concept, or are simply unwelcoming or closed-minded. She began engaging into conversations surrounding this topic whenever she can, making sure to do whatever she can for the cause.

Her role of championing advocacies in the community take a different turn when she decided to take a friend for HIV screening at LoveYourself Anglo in July 2017. “This friend engages in risky activity, so when I finally convinced her to get tested, I wanted to be there,” recalls Nicole. She lets out a chuckle when she remembers how, because of the wait time for the results, she decided to get herself tested as well. “I’m already there, anyway, so might as well.”

The accommodating aura and the welcoming warmth made her think of signing up as a volunteer. It also made her realize how the HIV advocacy is strongly related and equally crucial to the transgender cause she firmly believes in. The idea of being able to advocate for both causes as a way to give back to the community excited and challenged her. Nicole found herself staring at a chance to do something concrete, as a volunteer, and she grabbed it. She joined LoveYourself as a member of Batch Duque in September of that year.

Nicole shares how the organization has done more for her.“It allowed me to push for greater things, even those I never thought I could do. It gave me a better sense of understanding of the community I belong to. It led me to find the sisters I treasure dearly. It feels great to be around people who share your  wavelength, your passion, your heart.” LoveYourself served as an instrument for Nicole to take her advocacy further, not only educating about SOGIE and transgender rights, but also incorporating self-love in the context of HIV testing and treatment. Nicole finds inspiration in the co-volunteers she has fondly treasured as family; the leaders she look up to as role models, even the clients she takes care of during counseling.

“I’m very happy I have found sisters.” Nicole poses with her co-volunteers after a dutiful day at Victoria by LoveYourself.

Dedicated to Educate

“I still get frustrated,” admits Nicole, when asked how it feels whenever there are insensitive or hateful comments against the transgender community, or ignorant assumptions on any LGBTQIA topic. “I remember reaching out to someone I didn’t know through social media because she made comments that are selective and insensitive. I explained and communicated in a way that’s informative and not condescending. This person reasoned out to me how it’s only a matter of preference, but in the end, she apologized.” When the situation calls for it, Nicole is not one to back down easily, and can go on and on to make sure she gets her point across. “I believe they speak or act a certain way based on what the know. It’s how important education is.”

It can get tough for Nicole if it happens in the workplace. “You may sometimes hear people murmur remarks that are uncalled for. Some people would still joke about it, until now.” This admission comes at a time when the BPO industry has always shown support towards diversity and inclusivity, ahead of other industries in the country. “I have talked to friends or colleagues about it. Some have been receptive, others weren’t as open-minded.”

Nicole is aware this challenge is far from over, and she believes being a BPO Queen runner-up and LoveYourself counselor will enable her to achieve more. She plans to stick to what she does best—educating and inspiring from experience—to break the barriers of ignorance and hate and bridge it with understanding and compassion. She also aspires to influence more people who feel a strong passion for advocacy to follow her example and do something about it, the way she did by joining LoveYourself. Like a true queen with a purpose, there’s no stopping her, and she’s calling out for support and action.
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When not juggling BPO work and HIV advocacy, Tino is a self-confessed TV addict and Broadway musical fanatic. He thinks he’s an old soul, perhaps a sitcom actor in his past life, trapped in a selfie-obsessed man-boy suit.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

HIVisions: Secured Living for PLHIV

By Rael Bustamante and Ronald Bugarin

According to the March 2018 HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), there were 912 new cases of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) reported, most of which are young professionals aged 25-34. Attaining and maintaining financial security is a common goal among these up and coming men and women. But, some PLHIVs are discouraged from attaining financial security due mainly to discriminatory workplace policies regarding their condition or limited employment opportunities where some industries require that applicants and employees should be nonreactive / HIV negative. It will be beneficial for these PLHIV to have some form of assurance in having a secured life and future if only they are given a chance to apply for life insurance policy without discriminatory provisions.

Currently, life insurance has morphed from the traditional compensation for a person’s dependents after death to a form of investment or savings on top of the traditional coverage. Having a life insurance does not only give an assurance that those left behind have financial stability but likewise provide investment or savings opportunity for the applicant to secure their future. It will be favorable for PLHIV to have such opportunity especially to those who are making smart financial decisions because after a period of time, they can withdraw the savings earned from the life insurance policy and use it to have better lives without losing the benefits of having life insurance.  Also, critical illness riders where financial compensation are provided in case the policyholder acquires a critical illness without affecting his life insurance coverage and investment are now available.

Image Retrieved from: https://www.jurnal.id/id/blog/2017/5-bentuk-bentuk-badan-usaha-di-indonesia
The government has taken actions in providing equal rights for PLHIV. Section 26 of Philippines AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 (RA 8504) states that, “the Secretary of Health, in cooperation with the Commissioner of the Insurance Commission and other public and private insurance agencies, shall conduct a study on the feasibility and viability of setting up a package of insurance benefits and, should such study warrant it, implement an insurance coverage program for persons with HIV.”.  The Insurance Commission (IC) has already taken steps to ensure Life Insurance coverage are readily available for PLHIV and their dependents through the issuance of Circular Letter No. 2017-11.

But unfortunately, Life Insurance Companies have yet to properly implement the provisions on the underwriting of life insurance coverage for PLHIV where Applicant’s risk and exposure are assessed prior to granting of a life insurance policy. Some of the provisions require additional examinations beyond the coverage of Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package of PhilHealth and additional premium on top of the regular premium to be paid which can burden the applicant.

GUIDELINES ON PLHIV LIFE INSURANCE COVERAGE

Circular Letter No. 2017-11 was issued by IC on the 14th of February 2017 to all life insurance companies outlined the guidelines on the life insurance underwriting of applicants with actual, perceived or suspected to be living with HIV.  These guidelines were enacted to set standards in the risk assessment for PLHIV. This is set as a basis for the parameters of life insurance risk classification and other underwriting purposes. Among the salient point of the guidelines are as follows
  1. Insurer may require applicants to undergo HIV testing based on parameters set forth in R.A. 8504, performed by health facilities recognized by the Department of Health (DOH) and equipped in providing services on HIV testing and counseling.
  2. Insurer shall report to the Medical Information Database (MID) any HIV test with positive results provided the information was voluntarily submitted by the applicant/proposed insured and subject to compliance by the insurer with the provisions of R.A. 10173 and provided further, that the report to the MID is done with the knowledge of the applicant/proposed insured.
  3. Insurer may postpone the application of a newly diagnosed PLHIV for a period of not more than one (1) year from the start of continuous Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) in order to evaluate compliance and efficacy of treatment.
  4. The insurer may provide insurance coverage to a person with HIV or an individual diagnosed to be infected with HIV, if (a) the person is undergoing proper medical treatment, (b) the person has a favorable risk profile and ( c) the results of the medical examinations required by the insurer are within normal limits.
  5. The insurer may require applicants to defray the cost of special underwriting requirements related to the application for insurance coverage, if necessary.
  6. The insurer may impose extra mortality charges to persons accepted for coverage. The coverage may provide supplemental benefits or riders.

These guidelines appear to be tedious or to the disadvantage of PLHIV specifically under Item 4 - Grant of Insurance Coverage provision of the guideline.  PLHIVs are required to submit various medical examinations which are beyond the requirements of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for PLHIV and not covered by the OHAT Package of PhilHealth which includes Hepatitis C profile, blood chemistry profile to include kidney function and three (3) consecutive CD4 cell count tests. 

Below are the different tests needed by PLHIV before and during treatment in comparison with the requirements of Life Insurance Companies for PLHIV applying for life insurance as mandated by IC.



Pre-treatment, treatment and insurance policy requirements
Furthermore, there are additional costs added on top of regular coverage premiums for PLHIVs like mortality charges with supplemental benefits or riders and cost of special underwriting requirements making it quite expensive for PLHIV to acquire a Life Insurance coverage.

The guidelines also limit the acceptance for PLHIV as to plan of insurance, maturity term, payment term, age and policy amount. This means that Life Insurance Companies can dictate what type of product, how long the coverage, payments terms and even policy coverage can be granted to PLHIV as opposed to Regular Applicants who have the option to tailor fit the life insurance coverage to their needs. PLHIV does not have that option with this provision.

NON-COMPLIANCE OF LIFE INSURANCE COMPANIES

Despite provisions set forth by Section 26 of Republic Act 8504 as well as promulgated guidelines issued by IC via the issuance of Circular Letter 2017-11, Life Insurance Companies have yet to provide access to life insurance coverage to PLHIV and their Dependents.

The authors of this article made queries to five Major Life Insurance Companies on their compliance to Circular Letter 2017-11.  From the survey made, only one out of five Life Insurance Companies surveyed was compliant.

Reasons given by non-compliant Life Insurance Companies were they still treat HIV as an excluded medical condition. Others have yet to set up the underwriting parameters in determining the applicable life insurance coverage to be granted for PLHIV. And worse, some suggested not to disclose their HIV status upon application of Life Insurance coverage so that the Application can be approved easily. Said non disclosure can be disadvantageous to PLHIV since this can be seen by Life Insurance Companies as fraudulent and any claims to the policy on the basis of the withheld information can be rejected by the insurance company.

work person woman asian brunette portrait office fashion professional business lifestyle hairstyle smiling face eye head skin adult friendly femal business woman
Image Retrieved from: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/718743
A CALL FOR EASY ACCESS TO INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR PLHIV

A year has passed since Circular 2017-11 was released and until now Life Insurance Companies have yet to set-up their underwriting parameters to provide life insurance coverage for PLHIV.  There is a need for all Life Insurance Companies to comply with the mandate not just for the sake of compliance but more importantly to provide better life insurance coverage to more than 53,192 reported PLHIV cases as of March 2018.  

The efforts made by the IC for PLHIV are on the right track, however, amendments for the guidelines to be non-discriminatory to PLHIV are needed as well as stricter monitoring of its implementation by Life Insurance Companies. Hopefully, the Life Insurance Industry can answer the call of all PLHIV to have easy access to Life Insurance coverage that can preserve their hard earned income and provide for their Dependents financially when the need arises.
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Rael is a panda bear who loves giving hugs and making people laugh. He can be a little naive and eccentric but nonetheless, he will be your favorite chinito flavor 🐼
Ron is a true blooded Banker who does events and hosting on the side. He has volunteered for LoveYourself because of his former partner was diagnosed as PLHIV