It was her second Valentine’s Day
with the man who did not bother to check her past before asking for her hand in marriage. Beatriz (not her real name) met her future husband during a candlelight memorial for victims of AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome in 2017. "He is an activist," said Beatriz. "Maybe that was one of the reasons why he understood and accepted me." Beatriz is one of the estimated 68,000 Filipinos living with HIV or the human immunodeficiency virus, according to figures from UNAIDS. She said life turned "colorful again" after she found someone who "did not care about my past but was so passionate to show me what the future could be."
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After finding she had HIV six years ago, Beatriz fell into a pit of seclusion, which she described as "a nightmare." The virus took almost everything from the 33-year-old web designer, including her family and job. She left her home without informing her parents about her situation. It took her two years to pluck up the courage to come out in the open, tell her family about her situation and undergo therapy. "They accepted me back," she said. "But the stigma is real even inside the family." Tackling the virus
In January this year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law
a bill that aims to boost government efforts to battle the spread of HIV and AIDS. The law provides for the establishment of policies and programs that will give better access to health services and hopefully curtail the spread of the virus. Recent government data show that from January to November last year, there were 10,550 new cases of HIV in the Philippines and 2,917 deaths recorded. Church groups have already expanded their efforts to help fight the spread of the virus. Father Dan Vicente Cancino, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Health Care at the bishops’ conference, said the Church is focusing on education and awareness. "We also respond in terms of aid and support to people living with HIV," said the priest, adding that the vital element is the elimination of stigma and discrimination. "[We] need to be more compassionate towards people living with the virus. It is imperative that we understand them," he said. Carleen Nomorosa, program coordinator for the National Council of Churches in the Philippines
(NCCP), stressed the importance of making the public aware that "HIV is not a death sentence." "People living with HIV and AIDS can live a normal life," she said. "It only means that people around them should treat them normally." Nomorosa said people with the virus "deserve to experience love in a normal romantic relationship." Breaking the stigma
Jake (not his real name) is a church worker who facilitates HIV testing in urban poor communities. He had talked with people living with the virus and helped them access treatment and support. One day he offered to test his partner. "He had never been tested before," Jake said. They were shocked to discover that he was HIV positive. Jake, the motivator and counselor, did not ask how and why his partner was infected. Instead, he reaffirmed his love for his partner. Instead of looking into his partner's past, he focused on providing him "hope that must not be taken away from any person living with the virus." Rommel Linatoc, head of the NCCP’s Christian Unity and Ecumenical Relations program, said the Church has been advocating safer practices to prevent different modes of HIV transmission. "While abstinence remains the most reliable method of avoiding exposure to sexually transmitted infections, it must not be taught in isolation," he said. He noted that Christian churches have a more progressive response to issues concerning the prevention of HIV. "Many Protestant churches are more open to discuss the use of condoms," he said. Catholic Church leaders, however, remain firm that the use of condoms as a contraceptive or in acts "to satisfy a sexual urge" is unacceptable. "Maybe on a case-by-case basis, some would agree that the use of condoms to prevent HIV would be a better option," said Father Cancino. On Valentine's Day, Nomorosa of the NCCP urged people to include people with HIV in their prayers. "Let us take away the stigma," she said, adding that "health care should start at home, in the community, and in intimate relationships."