Friday, March 23, 2018

Undetectable Equals Untransmittable: The Battle Against HIV

By Ulysses Konstantin Largado and Jhemarie Arca

Much has been said about what one can do to prevent getting infected with HIV. In recent years, as we’ve seen an alarming spike in reported cases in the Philippines, most campaigns are aimed at educating Filipinos on how to lower their risks.

This approach remains to be the focus, and for good reason. As of the December 2017 HARP data, over 48% of reported HIV cases since 1984 are under Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) - the science of suppressing the virus to levels that are essentially low, it can no longer be detected (“undetectable”) during tests, which also means it can no longer be transmitted. Note that HIV can only be transmitted through 3 modes: blood and blood products, mother-to-child, and unprotected penetrative sex. The effectiveness of ART in lowering the viral load benefits not only the PLHIV undergoing treatment, but also other people who are at risk of HIV infection through sexual contact and mother to child transmission. It is the basis of the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign, a significant shift in approach on how we deal with HIV. As crucial as it is to drive prevention, it is only half of the battle. As any battle would require, the soldier aka the person fighting for one’s own welfare, should be mindful of the discipline, adherence, and an overall improvement of lifestyle.


Timely Treatment and Testing

LoveYourself’s care principle, the Triangle of Self-Care (TSC), emphasizes the importance of Timely Testing to know your status, and Timely Treatment for those found to have been reactive for HIV.

So we can fully understand U=U, let’s refer to the risk checklist known as ESSE - Exit, Sufficiency, Survival, and Entry. Sufficiency refers to higher levels of viral load found in blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. When any of these bodily fluids exit the body and enters another, HIV is transmitted.

Baselining and succeeding routine tests determine a PLHIV’s viral load. When it can no longer be detected, it simply means the content is no longer sufficient for HIV to be successfully transmitted.

Several studies on U=U yield the same output, backing up its efficacy and reliability. Numerous case studies and researches, such as the 2016 PARTNER Study, support the stance that U=U, best seen in serodiscordant couples where one is infected with HIV while the other isn’t, and remains negative. Understanding the concept of U=U leads to a goal-oriented approach in taking and adhering to treatment. This sets PLHIVs to a realistic and attainable objective.

In a statement released through the Prevention Access Campaign, “People living with HIV on ART with an undetectable viral load in their blood have a negligible risk of sexual transmission of HIV. Depending on the drugs employed it may take as long as six months for the viral load to become undetectable. Continued and reliable HIV suppression requires selection of appropriate agents and excellent adherence to treatment. HIV viral suppression should be monitored to assure both personal health and public health benefits.” In its statement, the term “negligible” refers to one that is insignificant, something so small or unimportant as to be not worth considering.

LoveYourself’s Role

LoveYourself continues to partner with its clients in attaining U=U. To date, 99% of our clients on ART have been virally suppressed, and 80% have undetectable viral levels. This demonstrates how timely treatment actually works, and this is what we aim to reinforce.

LoveYourself Anglo community clinic located in Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong is a DOH accredited primary care facility for HIV in the region, where PLHIVs get initial medical assessment and obtain ART. LoveYourself Anglo provides its clients with education, testing, treatment services, and life coaching services.

“We focus on client needs in terms of psychological and biomedical support. We are open to the client choices regarding time management (ARV medication) and treatment schedule (refill schedule) as long as it benefits both parties.” ~ Kahel Jay Sta. Maria, Lead Life Coach, HIV and TB Program Co-Manager.

The two clinics in Pasay expand LoveYourself’s reach: LoveYourself Uni along Taft Ave. offers testing accessible even to those residing outside the Metro. The newly-renovated Victoria by LoveYourself broadens its services by not only providing HIV testing and counseling, but offers hormone replacement therapy consultations as well. Find out more about our services and facilities here.


Winning the Battle

The key in winning any battle, in life or in actual battlefield, is the knowledge in knowing what you’re getting into. By being mindful about the information around us, one will know how to strategize and equip themselves with the right weapons to reach the goal. Thus, with early detection and treatment one can prevent the further transmission of HIV by attaining an undetectable status.

Photos by: Jhemarie Arca and John Danvic Rosadiňo

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Atma-Prema, LoveYourself’s First Batch for 2018, Roars with Love for the HIV Advocacy

By Mark Angello C. Ganon

March 3, 2018 - 53 volunteers rounded up Batch Atma-Prema, LoveYourself’s first clutch of fresh recruits for 2018. Supported by the Australian government and in partnership with the Taguig City Government, LoveYourself embraces the new bloods in the fight against HIV and the stigma that surrounds it.

Batch Atma-Prema, LoveYourself’s new advocates in HIV awareness and prevention

Gracing the halls of the People’s Hall of SM Aura Tower, the new faces were welcomed to the LoveYourself family by seasoned volunteers headed by James Anthony “Jay” Soliman, HIV Counselor, Life Coach. Pushing the number of volunteers to 946, Batch Atma-Prema are LoveYourself’s new warriors in reaching out to the community in propagating ideas and practices that encourage loving one’s self.


BEHIND THE NAME : A STAIRWAY OF LOVE

Since its conception in 2011, LoveYourself has knighted its batches of volunteers with distinctive names in the hopes of creating a sense of amity. The names of LoveYourself batches ranged from native terms like Bahandi and Magayon, to English words like Sensation, Absolute and Originals. For 2018, the core group of LoveYourself drew inspiration from love all across the globe.
Danvic Rosadiño, Love University Chancellor, talks about the essence of volunteerism

Atma, also coined as Atman, is a Sanskrit word that depicts "the self" while Prema is defined as "[divine] love". The merging of these two concepts became the inspiration for the batch name, Atma-Prema (pronounced as aatma prem), a term that means "self-love", a very timely happenstance to the organization's namesake, LoveYourself.

"The river that flows in you, also flows in me.”
~Kabir, Indian mystical poet
Core group discussions during the batch orientation are aimed at fostering camaraderie and processing insights
Since the ancient times, the Hindus have always been lovers of life; not just the biological life, but the life that sustains and transcends the physical body as well. Devoting time and attention in their search for something profound, the Hindus brewed a five-step stairway in achieving a sense of fulfillment.

The first step in the stairway was dubbed kama, a Sanskrit word depicting sensory cravings; an indication that first and foremost, humans are geared to gratify their sexual desires. The next step is shringara, or rapturous intimacy. Hand in hand with kama, shringara signifies that without true intimacy and sharing, one will be left feeling hollow and useless. In modern times, shringara can be depicted as romancing or foreplay. Following suit is maitri or generous compassion. It was thought in the olden times that love can also be achieved in giving; for it is in giving out love in little ways that love will come full circle. Fourth in line is bhakti, which translates to impersonal devotion. It was a commonplace belief that one can also cultivate himself through love and devotion to a higher ideal, may it be an entity, a truth, or a social justice. In the last tier is atma-prema, which connotes unconditional self-love. The philosophers believed that there is a self that exists at the center of each one of us; and it is in realizing that presence and appreciating its existence that one gets to fully immerse in love and learn from its pursuit.

"The simplest acts of kindeness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer"
~Mahatma Gandhi
Chris Lagman (in white), LoveYourself’s Director of Learning and Development, engages the new volunteers in a post-activity processing

BEHIND THE LOGO :
A LOVE WITH RESILIENCE

With the addition of Batch Atma-Prema, LoveYourself has 19 batches to date. Like all other batches, Atma-Prema came with a distinct and meaningful logo.
Batch Atma-Prema’s logo exudes a resilient love with the amalgamation of the unyielding tiger and the magnificent Anahata (heart chakra)

Rick James “TJ” Monzon of LoveYourself Visual Communications was tasked to develop a logo that bears as much relevance as the batch name it will represent. With a green and white motif, he created the background with the Heart Chakra or Anahata. In essence, it can be interpreted as "unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten", signifying a love that is unswayed, resilient, and strong.

Hindus consider Anahata as an integrating and unifying chakra. Most spiritual traditions recognize love as the ultimate healing force, correlating Anahata with Atma-Prema.

In that same sense, TJ quips that he added the tiger as an ode to India’s national animal. The tiger, which exudes strength, is often depicted as a solitary animal that strives for and by itself. Together with the heart chakra, the logo depicts a love that is strong, unyielding and resilient.

With Batch Atma-Prema, LoveYourself positions itself at the frontline in our battle against HIV. It is in being united with a common initiative that LoveYourself volunteers, both seasoned and budding, are fuelled to not just create ripples of positive change in our community, but to be the ripple that transcends and changes.

“If one would expand, he must love, and when he ceases to love he dies.”
~Swami Vivekananda

*photo credits to Aaron Dacanay and Leo Pura

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Trans Woman’s Risk

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

The HIV and AIDS epidemic has long been attached to the LGBTQI+ community since the early 1980’s.[1] As of December 2017, the HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines has reported that 87% of sexually transmitted cases of HIV are men having sex with men (MSM).[2]

Globally, there is limited data on the prevalence of HIV infection among transgender people as most epidemiological surveillance systems only ask for a person’s sex at birth, making transgender women fall under the MSM category.[3] A meta-analysis by Baral and colleagues in 2013 [4] revealed that the average HIV prevalence among trans women in several North American, Latin American, European, and Asian countries was 19.1%, significantly higher than the general population. Other studies, found that transgender persons have higher risk of HIV infection than MSM.[5]

What is the essence of a trans woman?

There are many qualities to trans women that make up who they are as a group and as individuals. Simply put, a trans woman is a person who was sex assigned as male at birth but identifies and sees herself as female. A trans woman does not necessarily have to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or gender affirming surgeries, as such her appearance and expression may vary in between the spectrum of masculine and feminine. A trans woman may be attracted to men, women, both, or none. Sexual roles among trans women may also differ from being inserters or receivers of penetrative sex to being non participative in sexual activity.

The Transgender Flag
Why are Trans women at risk for HIV infection?[6,7]

Transgender populations across the world experience high levels of minority stress from the attached social stigma and discrimination which can severely limit a transgender person’s opportunities for education and employment. Trans women in particular are further stigmatized as being sex workers who propagate unsafe sex. This can further limit a transgender person’s access to correct information with regards to safer sex practices. Which can lead to lower rates of condom use and HIV testing.

The lack of access to health professionals competent in transgender health and sensitive to transgender issues can also lead to unregulated hormone replacement practices such as sharing needles for injectable hormones, overdosing on hormones, or even taking medications that are not recommended when on HRT.

The stigma and discrimination transgender populations experience extends its effect on one’s mental health which can lower a person’s self-esteem making it harder for transgender people to say no to sexual partners insisting unsafe sex practices. This discrimination is also present in the healthcare system which can discourage transgender people to seek medical consult for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

There is also limited research on the complex dynamics of transgender issues, HIV risk and protective factors, prevention, and treatment. Studies regarding drug interactions or contraindications when on HRT are also limited. These factors make the development of effective health programs for transgender populations difficult.

Staff from Victoria by LoveYourself - the first community-led transgender health center in the Philippines
Photo taken by Yanyan Arana


Initiatives in the Philippines

In 2014, Transgender COLORS, Inc. in partnership with the City of Cebu, supported by the World Health Organization launched the Femina Trans Initiative - a peer-outreach program aimed to make sexual health services more accessible to transgender women in Cebu. Through the establishment of a transgender desk with trained peer counselors sensitive to transgender issues, the program has played a significant role in increasing HIV related knowledge and HIV testing rates among the transwomen of Cebu.[8]

In December 2016, LoveYourself launched the first community-led transgender health center in the Philippines. Victoria by LoveYourself (VLY) was established to address the lack of services catered for trans health issues such as biomedical transitioning. As part of its holistic approach to transgender health, VLY offers gender sensitive HIV testing and transition counselling services specialized for transgender populations. Hormone replacement therapy consultations with a doctor is free for transgender people who are looking into starting their transition as well.

If you’d like to learn more about how the HIV advocacy relates to transgender women, you can check out how some of our volunteers from Victoria by LoveYourself address these issues here.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Fit to Love Ambassadors Yasmien Kurdi, Jigs Mayuga, and More on the Craziest HIV Myths They've Ever Heard

We're only a week away to Fit to Love: Love Your Body, Live Your Life, a photoshoot campaign for a cause by LoveYourself that promotes upholding your sexual, mental, and physical health. Register at go.loveyourself.ph/fittolove, and we’ll see you on March 17 and 18 at The Upper Deck Sports Center, 6/F Ortigas Technopoint Building, 1 Doña Julia Vargas Avenue, Pasig City.

You've read what being fit to love means to our ambassadors in our previous post. Here, they spill the craziest HIV myths they've heard and offer helpful information to debunk these common misconceptions. Read on and be inspired to put an end to HIV misinformation yourself.

DO YOUR PART

Actress Yasmien Kurdi, who appears in a TV advocacy series about HIV and AIDS, points out one of the top HIV myths and stresses the importance of coming together to raise awareness.

"Some think that they are immediately at risk of contracting HIV just by speaking to a person who tested positive with HIV. HIV is not airborne.

"Right information about HIV and AIDS should be disseminated to the society with the help of the government, NGOs, media, etc. My own little part now is to give justice to the character living with HIV - the role I'm playing in the advocacy series my network is offering to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS."

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Makeup artist Jigs Mayuga, recalls one of the most infamous HIV urban legends from years back. He also explains how awareness and actions can spark change.

“I’ve always been aware of HIV growing up because I used to read about it a lot. I was a child in the ‘80s, so knew about people living with AIDS, like Magic Johnson, and I knew what the misconceptions were back in the day with gay people and HIV… I’ve had friends who died sudden deaths. Here in the Philippines, it’s not being talked about. People know that it’s HIV. I think it’s very sad, and I think it’s something we should talk about because the rate of infection in the Philippines is increasing. People are not aware that I’m actually very aware of these things because I work in the fashion industry, but it is one of my stronger advocacies, other than being an LGBT advocate.

“[The most ridiculous HIV myth I heard was] that there was somebody, back in the day, spreading HIV by injecting the virus [into people] in movie houses. It was very ridiculous. Also that you can get it from kissing, from saliva. A lot people know this isn’t true, but still some are afraid to kiss or hug HIV-positive individuals.

“I think it’s really just about educating. The way I do it is I just do it by action. If I see somebody who is HIV-positive, I don’t treat them any differently than any other individual. They’re all human beings also.”

KEEP LEARNING

Blogger, influencer, and pharmacy student Jay Pudadera has heard the same myths, and he uses what he learns in school to battle them.

"The most ridiculous myth [I’ve heard] would probably be that HIV is transmitted through simple physical contact, like hugging or just even touching and even kissing. It’s not.

“So that people would understand that HIV cannot be transmitted through those simple acts, I can raise awareness and tell them that it can be spread through unprotected sex, blood transfusions and organ transplants, or contaminated medical equipment.”

EDUCATE, NOT HATE

Another strong believer of education is Pedal for HIV founder Faustine Angeles Jr., who reinforces the need to educate others in order to stop the spread of and end the stigma attached to HIV.

"The most ridiculous myth surrounding HIV is that it is exclusively for people who engage in risky sexual activities. People always think that if you are living with HIV, you love having sex with multiple partners at the same time.

"The only way to correct that myth is by educating people around us about the basics of HIV. If everyone is knowledgeable about HIV transmission and prevention, then they will better understand that HIV will never define any person."

USE YOUR INFLUENCE FOR GOOD



Mr. BPO 2017 Lee Bueno doesn't mince his words when he tackles a common HIV myth you most likely have encountered in social media.

"[The most ridiculous HIV myth I've heard is that] HIV is something you can transmit through food. For your information, the virus can only live up to 30 seconds outside the body when exposed to air, and once eaten, it can only be transmitted if you have open wounds. So scaring people that some food are contaminated with HIV-infected blood is bullshit.

"I am a social media influencer and the first-ever Mr. BPO. I can use my scope of influence to educate people by joining this kind of organization and by posting facts vs myths articles about HIV."


SHARE WHAT YOU KNOW

HIV advocate and social media influencer Dayle Austria is not one to tolerate fake news either. He makes sure to share facts whenever he spots misleading information in social media.

"I always go online on social media. I always check my Twitter account, and I hear these fake news about: ‘Don’t buy apples because apparently, in Divisoria, there are blood strains in the apples, and once you consume it, you’ll be positive [for HIV]. That’s just complete BS.

“HIV cannot be transmitted through eating food, or something that has been contaminated, or  through saliva. That’s one of the craziest so far, and whenever I see it on social media, of course, I have to correct it.”

GUIDE PEOPLE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION


Fashion designer and crossfit athlete Odelon Simpao offers his own approach to spreading HIV awareness - through giving people a little nudge in the right direction.

“[The most outrageous HIV myth I’ve heard is that] if you kiss someone with HIV, you’ll get infected with HIV, like it’s automatic. And if people know someone is living with HIV, they’re immediately afraid to face that person. It’s like HIV is worse than leprosy, which is not the case.

"I think it’s just more of you not contradicting or negating a person’s perception but, I think, just giving that person a little information about HIV. I think that small talk and a little information will give someone a hint, and it can give that person the idea to really learn more about HIV.”

Debunk more myths with us and show just how fit to love you are by joining the Fit to Love: Love Your Body, Live Your Life photoshoot on March 17 and 18 at The Upper Deck Sports Center in Pasig. Go to go.loveyourself.ph/fittolove now to register, and you’ll receive an email confirmation within 24 hours. Final reminders will be given a day before the shoot.

Also join our Fit to Love contest and get the chance to win a limited edition LoveYourself shit. More details here.

Fit to Love is co-presented by The Upper Deck and CASxFACEONE. Our official apparel partner, Blued. Special thanks to Chubs Chasers, Ernest Gatpandan, and InRush Event Management.



Want some further reading? Check out:


Photos taken by Mark Alvarez
Photos edited by Franco Moje

Saturday, March 03, 2018

You are Fit to Love: Yasmien Kurdi and the Ambassadors Tell All

We’re getting closer to Fit to Love: Love Your Body, Live Your Life on March 17 & 18, 2018 at The Upper Deck Sports Center, Pasig, Metro Manila. A photoshoot campaign for people who uphold their sexual, mental and physical health.

Yasmien Kurdi and the rest of the crew has shouted out how they are fit to love, and so can you! Still thinking about signing up? Well, let these fresh faces tell you more about how everyone is definitely fit to love.

Being Fit to Love

“Fit to love refers to an active and healthier lifestyle we could offer to ourselves and loved ones. It could mean the love coming from the people around you to make you feel fit in society regardless of your condition or status in life” -Yasmien Kurdi, Actress

More than anything, being fit to love is a mindset that we have to adapt. In a world where social media makes the ideal so accessible, it can be easy to be pulled in a spiral of self-doubt by comparing your current state with these perfect moments. It can be vicious at times, but it is important to remember that we have our innate worth despite the circumstances that we find ourselves in.


"Adopting a healthy lifestyle can lengthen your life regardless of your HIV status”   -Odelon Simpao, Fashion Designer and Crossfit Athlete

Once we realize that we are fit to love, then we can start to appreciate the love we receive from others and form healthy choices when it comes to our own and others’ wellbeing. It takes time to fully embody this mindset, there may be lapses from time to time, and that’s okay. We just have to keep in mind the little ways we show how we are fit to love.

“If you are taking care of yourself, then you are fit for love.” -Jay Pudadera, Blogger and Digital Influencer

Treating ourselves to an early bedtime after a tiring day, spending meaningful moments with significant people in our life, and even taking the time to know our HIV status are all simple things that prove we are fit to love. We may not realize it now, but it’s the small healthy choices that keep us going through rough times.

“Love doesn’t really have to be only fitness, with your family, or with work, it’s more of love for yourself. It has something to do with how you give importance to yourself, others, and the community” -Dayle Austria, HIV advocate and Digital Influencer

Living Your Life

There are times in our lives that we may have felt paralyzed in making a decision. May it be when we were thinking what course to take in college, or whether or not to apply for work abroad, we may all have hesitated because we have yet to see the outcomes of our decision. This can become a cycle that prevents us from living our lives freely. We may unnecessarily limit ourselves due to fear of deviating from the norm.


“It’s heartbreaking to know that stigma and discrimination persist against people living with HIV. Think people should step forward and move past old thinking of how people with HIV should be treated.” - Yasmien Kurdi, Actress

Especially when it comes to choices that are heavily stigmatized such as seeking testing or treatment for HIV, there may be people in your life that will discourage you from doing so. Even when we stand up for the rights of people that may not directly affect us, there may be some who would go out of their way to hinder our collective voices to be heard.

Our community should see that PLHIVs can live a normal life so I decided to come out publicly about my HIV status. I’ve been promoting HIV awareness through sports-related activities to encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle which is a great way to boost our immune system.” - Faustine Angeles Jr., Founder of Pedal for HIV, and Ripple Awardee

However, it is important that we never tire to live our lives the way we want, and not let others dictate how we ‘ought to feel or think about ourselves. Part of being fit to love is living your life with freedom that does not impede the freedom of others.

I have a cousin who is openly gay like me, he is HIV positive and he came out to me in the early 2000s, so it (HIV) is something that hits very close to home because I have someone close to me who has HIV. He’s been on medication since the early 2000s so he’s fine. So I know that if you have HIV and as long as you’re seeking medication you’ll be okay.” -Jigs Mayuga, Makeup Artist

Love in the HIV Advocacy

A simple act of love goes a long way; who knows this may actually save a million lives. The advocacy aims to promote love and acceptance of people with HIV. Together we can fight and conquer the virus. Remember, if we are not infected, we are (still) affected.” -Yasmien Kurdi, Actress

It takes commitment, care, and knowledge to truly love. With all three, we are motivated towards taking proper action that is sustainable for a lifetime. If we fail to commit, then the change that we strive for will only be short lived. If we fail to care, then we may not be able to take the first step in making the needed change in our lives. If we fail to gain knowledge, then we make misinformed decisions which can negatively impact our lives.


The message of love is very important because this will empower people to fully support the cause. If we love our advocacy, we will never get tired of helping. If we love people living with HIV, we will protect them from stigma and fight for their rights.” -Faustine Angeles Jr, founder of Pedal for HIV, and Ripple Awardee

Love is an important message that HIV advocates carry out when fighting the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS. Like the many changes that we want to start in our own lives, people in the advocacy have the dedication, drive, and correct information when it comes to communicating the change that they want to achieve. The message of love aims to empower not only ourselves in maintaining our sexual, mental, and physical health, but others as well to follow suit for their own well being.

“Support can only be given if you have genuine care and if you’re open to this matter” -Lee Bueno, Mr. BPO 2017

Feeling inspired? Log on now go.loveyourself.ph/fittolove to sign up and upon registration, you’ll receive an email confirmation within 24 hours. We’ll also check up on you a week before the event as your ready yourself to FIT TO LOVE! Final reminders would be given a day before the shoot.


CONTEST ALERT

Join our ambassadors as they shout out how they are fit to love by sharing your best interpretation of “FIT TO LOVE” and how it relates to the HIV Advocacy by posting a photo on your social media (facebook, instagram, or twitter) and use the official hashtags #FITtoLOVE and #LoveYourselfph.

The winning three entries will get a limited edition LoveYourself fitted shirt in black to showcase your support toward the advocacy.

Criteria for judging:
50% Audience impact (likes, comments, shares, and retweets)
30% Originality and Creativity
20% Message relevance to HIV Awareness

FIT TO LOVE is co-presented by The Upper Deck and CASxFACEONE. Our official apparel partner, Blued. Special thanks to Chubs Chasers, Ernest Gatpandan, and InRush Event Management.

Photos taken by Mark Alverez
Photos edited by Franco Moje