Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Form and Substance: Meet Our Let's TESTMNL! Ambassadors

By Jean Natividad

These hunky gents are putting their brains and brawn to good use. Our Let's TESTMNL! ambassadors are posing not just to heat up summer; they're out to make a statement, too. For our upcoming HIV testing day event, we've enlisted the help of five sexy and sensible men to  tell you why you need to get tested, stat. Get to know them a little more, too, as they share a few tidbits about themselves.

And don't forget to join us for Let's TESTMNL! on May 28, Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Victoria Court Malate. It's LoveYourself and TestMNL's fast, easy, and anonymous HIV screening event. To register, just visit go.loveyourselft.ph/testmnl.

Rian Eli
Rian, an HR officer for the United Nations, is on the right path. With his chosen career, he finds fulfillment in serving his fellow employees and the organization. And with his role in Let's TESTMNL!, he's able to serve more people. "I believe in the vision of LoveYourself, and I'm also aware of the HIV crisis in the Philippines," he tells us. "I really feel good because I believe in this cause and its efforts. I know I'll be proud to be part of this. At the same time, I'll be able to help others."

Jed Garcia
Jed, a key account specialist for a pharmaceutical company, loves food and travel. This hard worker can frequently be seen getting things done at the office and pumping iron at the gym. Talking about HIV, he tells us, "I think it's about time that we become very vigilant... We need to take it seriously, to reach out and help out those who don't have an idea about it and those who are suffering from it already." He adds, "Just know your status because it's better to be aware than be too late."

Gibran Karl Alonzo
Gibran is a man of many passions - animals and HIV advocacy included. This doctor of veterinary medicine has not only treated poor animals, he has also trained sharks and stingrays and performed as a merman in the past! When asked about his participation as an ambassador, he shares, "I didn't think twice about joining the campaign because I'm aware of the rising rates of HIV infection. This is my way to reach out to those who are afraid to get tested." Gibran gets tested regularly himself, and he says doing so has encouraged his friends to do the same. "I'm not afraid. I would like to know whether I'm safe or not."

Gab Carreon
Associate software engineer and licensed electronics engineer Gab enjoys working out and hanging out with his friends. He says he's the type who's always doing something. Talking about his decision to join the campaign, he explains, "I feel very flattered. I really wanted to be part of an HIV awareness campaign. Someone asked me to join this, and I said, 'Yes, I'd love to be a part of it,' especially because I want to promote HIV awareness to the millennials and the youth who are most affected. I want to let younger people know that it's okay to get tested."

John Cruz
John is back in the country after working for five years at an events and advertising company in Dubai. He's getting settled in just fine by catching up with his friends and enjoying the outdoors. "HIV is no joke. I'm a nurse as well, so I know what you should and shouldn't do in regards to HIV." When asked about how he feels being a Let's TESTMNL! ambassador, John confesses, "I'm overwhelmed actually. In my world--I'm proud to be gay--there are those uneducated about how HIV is acquired. And it's time for people to know the value of getting tested." John has made it a habit to get tested regularly, and he believes it's important for younger people to be educated about HIV early on, so they can prevent HIV infection and practice protection.

Take your cue from these guys and get yourself tested at Lest's TESTMNL! Don't forget to register at go.loveyourselft.ph/testmnl. See you there!

Friday, May 12, 2017

STATUS -- HIV:What does your mom say about it?

By Watson Vergara
Everyone has talked about a particular status in his or her life, be it their relationship status, their financial status, and heck people talk about their problems on their Facebook status all the time! But one thing that’s rarely talked about is one’s HIV status. Despite its relevance today it is still greatly stigmatized and has been thought of as taboo by many. This monthly column aims to help facilitate discussion on issues surrounding HIV testing and living with HIV.

According to the HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines’ (HARP) January 2017 report, 27% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) are among 15 to 22 years old or the youth. This calls for proactivity among the youth to practice  safe sex and to get tested for HIV after three months of possible exposure.

Instead of an article about the youth and their sexual health, here is a piece about the youth from the perspective of their parents. But before we dwell into that, let’s talk more about the role of parents in their children’s sexual health, more specifically when HIV is involved.

It can be uncomfortable to talk about sex, especially with your child, but it doesn’t have to be. What parents can do is to establish an open communicative relationship about the topic, so their children do not feel ashamed to share their thoughts and feelings.
Mother and daughter talking
from: Shutterstock

Parent to child communication

One common misconception about HIV is that you can only get it through engaging in sexual acts. Others don’t know that another mode of transmission is from mother to child during pregnancy or through breastfeeding. To discuss more about what parents’ role can be in talking to the youth about HIV, four mothers were asked about their views regarding the topic.

Three out of four parents interviewed lacked sufficient knowledge about HIV, its transmission, and treatment. Common responses when asked of what they knew about HIV included that it was "nakakamatay" (life threatening), and "nakukuha sa sex" (sexually transmitted). It is in being misinformed and in the taboo nature of the topics concerned that may very well be the reason a lot of today’s youth are pushed to engaging in risky behavior. Studies show that quality of communication influences the message young people today receive about sex.

After telling them what HIV is and that it can be transmitted from mother to child, the parents were asked about their thoughts on HIV. Then there it was, the genuine parental care and love for their children.

Hala, sobrang delikado pala ‘yan. Dapat sobrang maingat ka.” (Oh, it’s really dangerous. We should really be cautious.) “At hindi mo alam na may HIV ka kung di ka nagpapatest? Wala pang nagpapatest sa’min niyan eh.” (And you won’t know it until you get tested? None of us have gotten tested yet.)

They were worried and wanted to know more. They did not hold back asking very specific questions about HIV and STIs. They asked about how to get tested, where to get tested, how long the test takes, what happens if you test reactive or nonreactive, how PLHIVs are getting taken care of, the stigma against PLHIVs, etc.

Mainly because they haven’t gotten tested themselves. One reached out for my hand and said, “Paano ba magpa-test? Akala ko kasi wala ako nun kasi di naman ako masakitin.” (How can we get tested? I thought I don’t have that since I don’t get sick easily.) Secondly because they are worried about their children. When asked about their child’s HIV status, they’re all pretty confident that their child is nonreactive to HIV. “Ay, wala pa ‘yan sigurado ako. Bantay-sarado ko ‘yan e.” (My child doesn’t have HIV, I’m sure of it. I watch over him all the time.) However, after finding out about parent to child transmission and other HIV-related information, they became silent. Mary (not her real name) promised to talk her 21-year-old son about what I just discussed!

When told about the HARP report and asked their thoughts about it, one said, “Malungkot, kasi gaya ko, wala akong masyadong alam diyan.” (It’s sad because, like me, I don’t know much about it.) One mom was taken aback, exclaiming, “Ay nako dapat bilisan nila yung paghahanap ng lunas diyan! Ang dami-dami nang nagkakaroon, wala pa ring solusyon! Dapat sa mga ganyan napupunta yung mga tax, para mapa-bilis ‘yung paghahanap ng panlaban.” (They should hurry up in finding the cure for that! A lot of people already have it, and there’s still no cure! People’s taxes should be spent on finding a cure.)

By the middle of the interview, after explaining all the basic information about HIV and self-care, one can sense the change in perspective. They saw HIV and sexual health as an important issue to tackle with their children.

When asked if they have ever talked to their children about sex in general, they all said no. The mothers I interviewed felt that their children were still too young or simply presumed that their children wouldn’t engage in sexual activities. One scary notion about parents not talking to their kids about these kinds of things is that it pushes kids to look for answers from other sources that might be unreliable. Ensuring that one’s child gets correct information from reliable sources affords no compromise. Talking to their children about this issue also gives parents the opportunity to provide children with the right counsel and act as role models.  Moreover, it has been proven that youths who have a more open communication about these kinds of things with their parents engage less in sexual activities.

With this, I asked them how parents should talk to their children about sexual health. Or to be more personal, how they would sit down and discuss this with their own children.

Though the interviews were held in different locations and different times, they all practically said the same thing: They need to do it soon.  They all see it as a matter of urgency. “It is frightening and we must tackle it soon.”

A Parent’s Experience Talking to their Child about HIV

Remember earlier when Mary promised to talk to her son about sex and HIV? She said she started by saying  they cannot afford being sick these days. She then proceeded to talk about HIV and how it can lead to death if not treated and managed properly. One good point she made was: “Hindi mo kailangang magpagamot kung hindi ka magkakasakit.” (You won’t need to get treated if you won’t get sick.)

Prevention is always better than cure. It’s as cliché as it sounds but that doesn’t make it less true. Do not be afraid to talk to your children about these kinds of things. They need guidance, and that guidance could be you.

One of the many things to be learned about the interviews is that the saying “what you don’t know won’t kill you” is extremely incorrect! These moms have learned about HIV and sexual health and now can guide  their kids.  

LoveYourself offers free and confidential HIV testing for everyone. It’s quick, it’s easy, and our friendly staff will assist you with anything you need to know about HIV and STIs. If you have more questions about getting tested, you can send a message on our Facebook page.

What you don’t know must make you ask questions and look for answers for it will surely save your life one way or another. This goes for parents, guardians, and everyone in between.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Prep for Let's TESTMNL! - Community Based Screening: What is it and how is it done?

By Diego Rozul

Let's TESTMNL!, LoveYourself and TestMNL's  fast, easy, and anonymous HIV testing event is happening on May 28, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Victoria Court MalateTo register, log on to go.loveyourself.ph/testmnlWant to know how the test will be conducted then? Read on to find out. 

LoveYourself has embarked on a great change, adapting a quicker and more efficient way of testing for HIV in its HIV testing day events - Community Based Screening (CBS).

It was first used in the May 2016 Incognito testing which served 300 clients, so far the most successful turnout for any LoveYourself HIV testing day event.

The advances in the time required to obtain results with high levels of accuracy have allowed LoveYourself to offer its past Incognito events and the upcoming Let's TESTMNL! as quick and efficient, promising results in 15 minutes from the time of the collection of blood sample.

The decision to shift from Standard Testing Protocol to Community Based Screening was due to a large number of repeat clients getting tested in the LoveYourself clinics. This was a response to the need to reach more people for HIV testing, and entailed moving out of the clinics to locations more accessible to target groups.

These people include those living far from a testing center, those who are still afraid of the probable stigma that comes with testing or going to a HIV testing clinic/facility, those with tight schedules or live on subsistence and cannot miss a single day from work, and those who are simply uninformed or misinformed.
The shift was also due to the long waiting time - around one to two hours - with standard testing compared to the 15-20 minute processing time of the Community Based Screening method.

In LoveYourself, we use the immunochromatographic assay kits for our Community Based Screening which is effective in detecting HIV 1 and 2 antigens or  antibodies. This is essential in detecting the infection early and linking the client to treatment, care and support. The kit has also been approved by the Word Health Organization.

With Community Based Screening, we hope to eliminate the shortcomings of standard testing and give our clients another option. This new method does not require a licensed health professional to examine the blood sample. You would only need a test kit, a reagent, and a trained change agent or a counselor who underwent Community Based Screening orientation.

This new method also requires less time to test the sample - from one to two hours, the process is complete in just 15-20 minutes! LoveYourself envisions our trained counselors going to untapped populations directly with kits on hand for testing, leaving less Filipinos left unaware of their HIV status.

Community Based Screening using the immunochromatographic assay kit involves a few simple steps. First, your finger is disinfected and pricked with a sterile lancet, which is properly disposed as biohazardous waste afterwards. Then, blood from the finger is dripped onto the test kit with a reagent. This procedure provides the same quality (specificity and sensitivity) of results as what standard testing provides, only with less blood and less time.

The kit will reveal the results in 15-20 minutes. While waiting for the results, your counselor will talk you through the entire process of CBS and discuss salient information about  HIV, AIDS, and sexual health management. Clients are also provided time to ask any questions regarding the test.

It is important to note that with Community Based Screening, you will only be tested for HIV 1 and 2, and you won’t be given a printed copy of your results. You would have to go through standard testing provided in LoveYourself Uni or Anglo should you wish to have a print out of the results for reasons such as employment services. Moreover, you can have yourself tested for Syphilis and Hepatitis B. Similarly, if your results from Community Based Screening turn out to be reactive for either or both HIV 1 and 2, you will need to undergo a confirmatory test  and eventually be recommended for treatment through our resident doctor if the result is still positive.

For testing at LoveYourself’s clinics at Anglo and Uni and at our HIV testing day events, HIV testing is open for all regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status, provided totally free of charge. All personal information collected will be handled with strict confidentiality.

If you want to get tested or try the Community Based Screening yourself, then you can sign up for Let's TESTMNL! happening on May 28. Just register here: go.loveyourself.ph/testmnl.

For more information about the effectiveness of Community Based Screening test kits please click here.

Photos: Carlos Diego A. Rozul
Photo editing: Mark Long
Poster and infographic: Geno Maglinao

This story was originally published on November 14, 2016. Updates were made by LoveYourself editors.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Prep for Let's TESTMNL! - A Primer On Your First HIV Test

By Hershey Homol

Let's TESTMNL, LoveYourself and TestMNL's fast, easy, and anonymous HIV testing event is happening on May 28, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Victoria Court Malate. To register, log on to go.loveyourself.ph/testmnl. Will it be your first time to get tested? If so, read on to get an idea of how an HIV test goes.

The first time for anything can be downright daunting—be it your maiden trip driving a car, your initial instance asking someone out beyond a coffee date, or even your sexual debut having a casual or romantic encounter.

Understandably, your first HIV test may scare the living daylights out of you. Maybe it’s the thought of blood extraction, or the possibilities on the result of the HIV test that leave your palms sweaty.

Here are a few reminders to help you prepare and build your confidence before your first HIV test.
Photo by Manny Marcelo for The Philippine Star

1. No fasting required. HIV testing does not require fasting. Go ahead and indulge on your favorite snack or drink before going to your scheduled test.

2. Have an open mind. Let go of your fears, and if you still have reservations, you can approach LoveYourself's trained counselors. They will guide you through the entire process, even after you get the results.

3. Everything is kept confidential. LoveYourself assures the anonymity of each client and confidentiality of the testing process – whether taking the test through LoveYourself Platinum, one of the hubs, or an HIV testing day event.

Testing Process

Each test comes with three stages—the Pre-Testing, the Blood Extraction, and the Post-Testing.

1. Pre-testing:
You will undergo a pre-test counseling, which includes HIV 101 and risk assessment.

2. Blood Extraction:
After the pre-test counseling, your blood sample is then collected and you will have to wait for the results.

3. Post-testing:
You will also undergo post-test counseling where the results of the blood sample are discussed by the counselor.

Two scenarios in discussing a client’s HIV test results

Nonreactive: If the client’s result turns out to be nonreactive to HIV antibodies, the counselor then encourages the client to practice safer sex and to still avail of HIV testing regularly.

Reactive: If the client’s result turns out to be reactive to HIV antibodies, his blood sample will then be sent to DOH / STD AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory for confirmatory tests. Reactive clients are also referred to RITM Alabang for free baseline tests, which will determine if the client needs to start Antiretroviral Therapy right away.

LoveYourself has always maintained that a reactive HIV test result is not a death sentence. With proper medication and further health protection, people living with HIV can and will continue to enjoy life’s blessings. LoveYourself provides a support system of counselors and other volunteers who can be the ultimate pep squad in helping someone live and continue to love, even with HIV.

Get yourself tested and know your status. Sign up for Let's TESTMNL! at go.loveyourself.ph/testmnl. See you on May 28! 

This story was originally published on April 10, 2015. Updates were made by LoveYourself editors.

How To Get To Victoria Court Malate for Let's TESTMNL!

By Jennina Carla Saldaña Alvizo

To some people, it takes a lot to muster enough courage for them to decide to get tested. This is why we want to be the first one to congratulate you for taking this brave step! Before anything else, don’t forget to sign up to join Let's TESTMNL! Register at go.loveyourself.ph/testmnl, and you will receive a confirmation notice two days prior the event (May 26, 2017, Friday).

On May 28, 2017, Sunday, proceed to Victoria Court Malate between 10AM to 7PM. You can choose to print the map provided below or save it on your mobile phone for easier reference.


Exact Address
Victoria Court Malate, 2184 Madre Ignacia Street corner Quirino Avenue, Malate, Manila.

From the LRT - Quirino Station / Taft Avenue
It will take you approximately 10 minutes if you walk from LRT-Quirino Station / Taft Avenue. You can also opt to take a public transportation vehicle going through Quirino Ave., then ask to be dropped off at Victoria Court which should be at the right side of the street.

From Roxas Boulevard
It is only a 5-minute walk from Roxas Boulevard, but you can still choose to ride a public transportation vehicle going through Quirino Ave. This time, Victoria Court is on the left side, so you need to cross the street.

Victoria Court Malate is facing the Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden.

Google Maps or Waze
If you’ll be bringing your own vehicle, you can use Google Maps or the Waze app. Just search for “Hotel Victoria De Malate” to see a detailed map of the vicinity.

Again, make sure you register at go.loveyourself.ph/testmnl beforehand to ensure a slot. We’re looking forward to see you!