Thursday, September 14, 2017

STATUS: Working with HIV

By Jeffrey Venzuela

The latest data (June) released by DOH, shows that more than half of the reported cases of HIV belong to the age range of 25-34 years old, which means that most cases are young professionals. With the ongoing advancement of treatment and maintenance for HIV and AIDS, it should be known that life doesnt end upon diagnosis. Living, however, can still be an uphill battle.

While some people look to their jobs to make ends meet, others consider their work as a part of their self-fulfillment and self-realization. In this edition of STATUS, we ask: Should your serostatus matter at your workplace?

Ones serostatus is very sensitive and private information. Only you can choose to disclose it. However, there may come a time when working conditions are not so favorable to your health or you would need to explain frequent absences. In times like these, it would be beneficial to talk to your supervisor or human resource personnel about your situation.

Image by Jiru Rada

According to Article VII Section 35 of R.A 8504 (Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998), Discrimination in any form from pre-employment to post-employment, including hiring, promotion or assignment, based on the actual, perceived or suspected HIV status of an individual is prohibited. Termination from work on the sole basis of actual, perceived or suspected HIV status is deemed unlawful. This should be your safeguard against unjust dismissal.

The law not only protects you from termination due to your serostatus, but it also preserves your right to privacy and confidentiality. It should also protect you from discrimination in all its forms and subtleties. These were reiterated by the Department of Labor and Employments Department Order 102-10, Guidelines for the Implementation of HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control in the Workplace Program.  The D.O 102-10 was issued to strengthen the workplace response in implementing the provisions of RA. 8504 and to provide directions for employers, employees, and program implementers in the workplace.

However, despite these provisions, there are still many victims of discrimination in the workplace. According to the executive vice president of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Gerard Seno, there were employment applications that had been turned down, workers who are PLHIV had lost their jobs, their promotions declined, and access to affordable health services denied. He urged for discrimination like these be removed.

Miguel (not his real name) was a ward nurse who had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Prior to his diagnosis, he was angling to be transferred to a specialty area. He already had everything lined up. He had glowing recommendations from his unit manager and his transfer was already being talked about. Weeks before everything was finalized, he had donated blood for a patient. Later on, he was called to the blood bank where he was advised that his blood had tested positive for HIV.

The transfer he had hoped for never happened. Instead, he was switched to an area which, as he described, involved doing more administrative work than being an actual nurse. Things turned for the worse when he started noticing his colleagues whispering when they see him and then stopping when he stares them down or when he confronts them about it. According to Miguel, the rumors about his serostatus even reached the doctors and head nurses of the hospital.

Despite being able to keep his job and preserve his income, he felt like he lost his dignity at the hospital. It seemed to him that his competence as a nurse was no longer based on his skills but on his serostatus. When asked if he is considering pursuing legal action in relation to his situation, he said no. He is afraid theres no sufficient evidence to support his case. Hes also much more concerned about his growth as a nurse, which would be difficult at his current function. Miguel plans to speak with the head nurses first to see if they can work something out with him and his intentions of being transferred to a specialty area.

Another notable case would be that of Renato Nocos'. He filed charges of discrimination and unlawful termination against his employer Ricky Reyes and Reyes business associate Tonneth Moreno. After disclosing his HIV-reactive status, he was reassigned to a location that wasnt doing so well, which ended up closing. He was not given a new assignment after that. Nocos won and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) ordered Reyes to reinstate Nocos, and pay him back wages and benefits, including salary differentials, emergency cost of living allowances, 13th month pay, separation pay, and attorneys fees amounting to a total of PHP615,313.06.

In relation to Nocos victory, ALU national executive vice president Gerard Seno said, Oppression like this happens because there are still a great majority in our society whose judgment calls are still guided by their ignorance about HIV and AIDS.

The statement above is agreed upon by the results of a study conducted to see the relationship between peoples knowledge and their attitude toward people living with HIV in the workplace. Results indicate that the respondents who have a higher knowledge level manifested a lower tendency to discriminate against PLHIV at the workplace, whereas those who have lower knowledge level have a higher tendency to discriminate against PLHIV.

People who had higher scores on HIV and AIDS knowledge demonstrated supportive attitudes: 1) allowing PLHIV to work in a company or any organization, 2) recommending PLHIV to work in ones company or organization, and 3) working closely with a PLHIV. They are confident that they will not contract the disease by working closely with PLHIV.

On the other hand, many of the respondents who were against of the idea of allowing PLHIV to work in organizations have fears of contracting HIV and believe they could contract HIV if they stay near PLHIV, share a toilet with PLHIV, and share eating utensils with PLHIV. They also believe that it is okay to refuse employment of PLHIV for the protection of other employees.

This goes to show that proper and accurate education regarding HIV and AIDS is the key to eradicate the stigma surrounding the illness. Earl Patrick Penabella,head of the Philippine Business Sector Response (PBSR) arm of LoveYourself, claims that the situation is changing for the good on the private sector. Various companies like BPOs, manufacturing, and financial institutions among others, and are now proactively reaching out to them instead of them having to initiate and offer their services like conducting HIV Awareness and onsite testing. The seminars are well-attended and the participants are very engaged in the discussion of HIV and AIDS and show genuine concern regarding the issue.

If youre a PHLIV whos looking for guidance or simply someone to talk to, you can check out these support groups. You could also visit the LoveYourself Uni and Anglo clinics to talk to our Life Coaches. Also, if you feel like your company is in need of an HIV Awareness discussion, feel free to email and copy

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Asia’s Premier Charity and Awards Gala on HIV Advocacy Unveiled

Long before Miss Universe 2015 Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach exponentially raised HIV and AIDS awareness in the country, many Filipino individuals have been working hard to change the landscape of the HIV and AIDS advocacy in the country.

Ten (10) of them will be recognized this World AIDS Day on 1 December during the first-ever “Love Gala.”

The Love Gala, as unveiled Wednesday (9 August), is the Asia’s Premier Charity and Awards Gala event, which will honor outstanding individuals and their immeasurable contributions at “The Ripple Awards.”

The organization believes that “a single person's act of love can start a wave that can save millions of people.”

The Ripple Awards nomination period is open until 31 August 2017.

Visit the Love Gala page: to nominate someone who has created ripples of positive change that greatly influenced the domestic and global movement towards the HIV and AIDS advocacy.

Potential nominees can be a representative from the following sectors:

           Business (HIV policy in the workplace, companies, programs for business)
           Youth (program for the youth sector, youth-initiated)
           Academe (educational institutions, school organizations, program for schools)
           Government (legislators, LGUs, government organizations)
           Media & Advertising (digital, media organizations, media programs)
           Influencer (individual)
           NGOs (NGO-led programs)
           PLHIV (support groups, individual)
           Medical (hospitals, doctors, clinics, medical practitioner)
           Arts (films, stage play, artworks, artists)

Additionally, the gala is a collaboration of private and public institutions and youth-oriented organizations to augment the efforts in mainstreaming the HIV and AIDS advocacy to a larger audience.

Institutions and organizations coming together for Love Gala are the following: AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Black Maria Productions, Decent Image of South Signal Association (DIOSSA), Dentsu, Pinoy Plus Association Incorporated, Positibong Marino Philippines, Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines (SHIP), Taguig City Government, Team Mag, The Red Whistle, The LoveYourself Incorporated, and the US Embassy. 

Behind this extensive collaboration of Filipino organizations is Better Together.

Better Together, an initiative founded by Dr. Antoine Bondaz and Mr. Kenneth Kwok for the purpose of empowering future generations in Asia and beyond, is a founding member of the Love Gala.

Uniting for a single cause, the gala will also feature a concert headlined by artists who are also HIV and AIDS awareness advocates, and a mini auction that will raise funds to further HIV and AIDS education.

With the Philippines peaking its HIV infection incidence, “We have to firmly stand together in fighting this pandemic, not only for the Philippines, but for the rest of Asia and beyond,” the organization concluded.

Miss Universe 2015 as Ambassador of Asia’s Premier Charity and Awards Gala

Miss Universe 2015 and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, made the heart sign with her hands after being named on Wednesday (9 August) as the first-ever ambassador of “Love Gala.”

In giving her time wholeheartedly to the HIV advocacy, Wurtzbach announced her personal project called Project Progressive Information Awareness (PIA) campaign, or simply dubbed Project PIA, which bears the Love Gala.

Love Gala is Asia’s Premier Charity and Awards Gala event, which will serve as a donation mechanism to support the HIV and AIDS advocacy, and will honor ten (10) outstanding individuals at “The Ripple Awards” for their exceptional contributions in raising the level of HIV and AIDS awareness in the country.

“We hope to see an increase in HIV awareness, spread love for people living with HIV, and make HIV testing among Filipinos a normal part of their health and wellness routine,” said Ms Wurtzbach. “I believe we can strengthen our bonds and achieve our shared goal of ending AIDS in the Philippines, Asia-Pacific and the Universe.”

The first Love Gala will be held at the official city partner of Taguig on 1 December alongside the celebration of the World AIDS Day.

It will also feature a fashion show by top Philippine designers, a star-studded mini-concert, and a special auction.

Meanwhile for the “Ripple Awards,” the Love Gala organization will only be accepting nominations until 31 August 2017.

To nominate, click the link: Nominees will be screened based on their initiatives to create ripples of positive change that greatly influence the domestic and global HIV and AIDS advocacy.

The gala is a collaboration of private and public institutions and youth-oriented organizations, which was espoused by the Better Together Organization. It also aims to augment the efforts to normalize the HIV and AIDS advocacy to a larger audience.

“I believe we can strengthen our bonds and achieve our shared goal of ending AIDS in the Philippines, Asia-Pacific and the Universe,” says Ms Wurtzbach.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

New cases of HIV in the Philippines hit record high with 1,098 in May 2017

By Nel Lee Hadlocon

An alarming increase of HIV cases, with now an average of 35 per day, has been reported to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) in May 2017. This is 48 percent higher compared with same time last year and is the highest recorded number of cases since 1984.

Sexual contact continues as the top mode of transmission.

Nine hundred eighteen (918) reported cases were men having sex with men. Five hundred fifty-eight (558) of these cases were through homosexual contact. Bisexual contact accounted for 360 of the total number of cases, heterosexual contact for 150, and sharing of infected needles among injecting drug users for 27.

Thirty (30) percent of these cases were from the 15 to 24 age group, while more than half were from the 25-34 year age group.

Photo by Carlos Diego A. Rozul

Many individuals find it difficult to get themselves tested. Existing laws in the country require individuals age 18 and below to secure parental consent prior to getting an HIV test. This becomes a barrier  for younger people to know their status.

In an article published by Human Rights Watch last December 2016, lack of effective sex education on and off the school, late intervention, and social stigma are among the challenges we face in this fight against the HIV epidemic.

Education and early detection and intervention are the best weapons to combat the epidemic.

Sex education in the country is under scrutiny and is oftentimes faced with firm opposition from different conservative groups. Last 2006, the Department of Health (DOH) attempted to implement a pilot sexuality education program, which received immediate strong opposition from conservative lawmakers, with the influence of the Catholic Church, on the grounds of ‘promoting sin.’ The Comprehensive Sexuality Education is part of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law that aims to provide a curriculum, as early as Grade 1, to be delivered by qualified and fully trained teachers.

Existing sex education is limited to the explanation of the human reproductive system that primarily focuses on the science of reproduction, physical care and hygiene, correct values, and the norms of interpersonal relations to avoid premarital sex and teenage pregnancy.

DOH proposed to give away free condoms to senior high school students, and the Department of Education (DepEd) disapproved the initiative stating that it needs parental consent. Human Rights Watch asked people with HIV, from 18 to 35 years old, and found out they experience unease when buying condoms. No-cost contraceptives and other family planning services are free and available at social hygiene clinics, but many Filipinos do not visit these places for fear of the stigma attached to them.

Up to this day, majority of Filipinos consider sex education or sexual health as taboo, a topic most parents dread to talk about with their children. Based on the latest HARP report, 325 cases were among the youth aged 15 to 24 years and 95 percent were male. With the lack of sex education, adolescents look for answers elsewhere, and they often end up having unprotected sexual encounters.

The National Youth Commission (NYC), headed by Aiza Seguerra, is strengthening their anti-HIV campaign through open discussions with parents and teachers on HIV and sex education. The NYC appealed to lawmakers to amend Republic Act 8504 and lower the age of consent for HIV testing. Miss Universe 2015, HIV and AIDS awareness advocate, and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific Pia Wurtzbach has also appealed the same.

Currently, liberal lawmakers are moving toward the review, revision, and expansion of existing laws to keep up with the changing trends and alarming rise of HIV cases. Representative Rene L. Relampagos co-authored House Bill Number 53 that seeks to establish the Philippine National AIDS Council as an attached body to DOH, a body that will act as a policy making, planning, and coordinating body of the Philippine and National HIV and AIDS program, empowered to develop a national multi-sectoral HIV and AIDS strategic plan, among other functions, to address the epidemic.

LoveYourself offers free HIV testing and counseling services in its clinics. For more information, click here.