‘Bobby’: HIV victim joins campaign versus dreaded, misunderstood disease

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/03 December) – After learning he tested positive of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) last year, 33-year old “Bobby” cried. He was afraid not of his condition, but of being disowned by his family and discriminated by the public.

“I was not thinking of my ailment, I was thinking of the shame of being disowned that others won’t understand me. I thought it would just be OK to die,” he declared in a sharing in the World AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) Day Forum in Malaybalay City Tuesday.

Doctors at the hospital where he was treated for acute pneumonia were surprised that anti-biotic medicines did not work on him.  When he tested positive he thought it was the end of the world. For months, he stayed home reflecting on his situation until he learned of a support group that has helped him from then on.

His family eventually understood his condition and has expressed support for him to live a normal life.

“There is hope for people like us,” said “Bobby”, one of 269 cases of HIV infection in the region reported from 1984 to August 2014. He cited that among the problems people like him encounter is possible stigma and discrimination due to lack of education.

This is despite Republic Act 8504, the law that seeks to ensure protection of people living with HIV. The law mandates that government programs and policies must make eliminating stigma and discrimination central to ensuring that all people feel safe in accessing HIV and AIDS testing and treatment services.

“Bobby” lamented that rumors especially those rooted in misinformation on people with HIV/AIDS do not help. Education, he added, helps address ignorance citing the reaction of his mother, a nurse practicing in the United States. He said there is better public understanding of HIV/AIDS in the US so people living with the condition are not discriminated.

Organizers of the local commemoration explained that the theme “Getting to zero” means they are aiming for Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination, and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.

Dr. Melrose Deticio, of the Malaybalay City Health office asked for the participation of different sectors in educating the public as the health sector alone cannot do it.

“There is a need for alliance work, for other sectors to collaborate. Let’s treat government organizations, nongovernment organizations, and individuals as partners,” said Michael Jesus A. Mahinay, project officer and HIV Counseling and Testing Trainor of Alagad-Mindanao Inc.

“Bobby” still spoke with traces of sadness in his face. Several times, he would pause as tears rolled down his cheeks. He cited that he had thoughts of being cursed. He admitted though that he lived an active sex life as a bisexual many years before learning about his condition.

He said his sex life started at the peak of his curiosity. He drank just anywhere, and he could no longer identify who infected him. He said that during those times he did not think of the consequences.

But “Bobby” quickly regained his composure. He said his condition helped bring him back to God and see meaning in life. He attributed his source of strength to God and the encouragement of groups like Alagad-Mindanao.

Now an advocate of education on HIV/AIDS with Alagad-Mindanao, “Bobby” said there is a need to help prevent the spread of the disease and help support people like him.

Mahinay said that of the 269 cases in Northern Mindanao, Alagad-Mindanao is handling a total of 70 cases.

“Bobby” is one of the 26 patients in Cagayan de Oro who is receiving free anti-retroviral drugs. As of November 2014, a total of 15 patients they handled had died.  Only five of the 70 patients they handled are female. In the region, 245 of the 269 patients are male.

Of the 269 cases, 125 are homosexuals and 84 are bisexuals. Only a little above 20 percent are heterosexuals.

Most of the 269 cases (159) are in Misamis Oriental. The rest are in Lanao del Norte (38), Bukidnon (30), Misamis Occidental (20), and Camiguin (5).

Mahinay cited that a number of the cases have sought treatment and attention outside the region.

Of the 269 cases, 149 belong to the 25-34 age group, where “Bobby” belongs.

In the Philippines, Alagad-Mindanao said, there are a total of 20,989 reported HIV positive cases and 318 deaths so far.  About 90 percent or 18,948 of the cases were males and only 2,030 cases were females.

According to the UNAIDS 2013 Report, worldwide there are 35.3 million adults and children estimated to be living with HIV and AIDS. Around 2.5 million of the cases are children below 15 years old. Around 28 million people already died and around 7,000 people get infected every day.

“About 95 percent of those living with HIV come from developing and poor countries (like the Philippines),” Mahinay said.

Alagad-Mindanao said the HIV is the virus that causes AIDS by attacking and destroying the body’s immune system.

There is no known cure for HIV or a vaccine that can prevent it. The disease shows no signs and symptoms at the early stage.

AIDS on the other hand is the end stage of HIV infection where symptoms of diseases, infections and malignancies occur.

HIV can be transmitted through body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk.

The group said the modes of HIV transmission include unprotected sex and having multiple sex partners. It can also be contracted through blood transfusion, organ transplant, and sharing of syringes. A mother can also infect her child during pregnancy and delivery.

Mahinay said among the methods to prevent infection is abstention from sex, mutual monogamy, and careful sex through correct and consistent use of condom and non-penetrative sex.

For mothers, they can avoid transmission by either avoiding pregnancy or consulting a doctor if pregnant for proper intervention and monitoring.

Mahinay added that Ceasarian section delivery can prevent transmission. Once the baby is born, the mother should also avoid breastfeeding. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)