Discrimination, stigma removal are challenges in fighting HIV/AIDS

TAGAYTAY CITY (MindaNews/20 May) –  The negative public attitude towards persons living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) such as discrimination and stigmatization, is a major challenge facing health workers in curbing  the deadly disease in the country, experts said.

Dr. Susan Gregorio, acting chief of the Philippine National AIDS Council, Inc, lamented the negative attitude as she called for a wider awareness campaign, including its integration into the educational system.

“If there’s stigma and discrimination, HIV patients naturally would be ashamed to come out, hence the fight to curb HIV becomes really difficult,” she said on Thursday in a seminar for media workers organized by the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP) and the Department of Health.

HIV causes the Acquired Immunodeficiency Acquired Syndrome (AIDS), a serious disease which is markedly growing in the Philippines since it was first detected in the country in 1984.

Since then until March 2011, 6,498 people have been found positive of HIV,  324 of whom died from AIDS, said Dr. Enrique Tayag, who was recently appointed DOH assistant secretary.

In the first quarter of the year, 483 persons have been tested positive of HIV, 172 of them monitored in March, he added.

Sexual contact remains the most common mode of HIV, with males having sex with males (MSMs) as the predominant type of sexual transmission during the period, DOH data showed.

HIV can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, mother-to-child transmission, intravenous drug use and needle prick injuries.

Dr. Ofelia Monzon, ASP founding president, said it is important to improve the education of people on HIV/AIDS to effectively fight the disease, noting there are still many misconceptions that abound in the country.

“The disease can’t be transmitted through touching, kissing, by mosquito bites or by being in the same room,” she stressed.

To underscore the discrimination against people suffering from HIV/AIDS, Monzon said that a worker in the business process outsourcing industry was recently fired by the employer after learning about the infection.

Monzon said statistics on people living with HIV/AIDS does not paint the exact picture of the magnitude of the disease infection in the country.

“We don’t know the extent of HIV infection in the country as there are unreported or undetected cases,” she said, apparently referring to those who are afraid to come out for fear of discrimination.

Celestino Ramirez, board member of the Positive Action Foundation Philippines, Inc., a support organization for people living with HIV, said they have cases where even family members would shun a loved one afflicted with the disease.

“There is a lack of proper information about the disease that results to discrimination and stigmatization of people suffering from HIV/AIDS,” he said, adding there’s a need for a widespread awareness campaign to help prevent the disease from spreading. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)