Partnership focuses on HIV/AIDS in Philippines

In the Philippines, where recent figures show an HIV rate growth of 25 percent, United Methodist leaders are hoping to make a difference with a new partnership with the Cabanatuan City Health Office.

Together, they want to create a sustainable program and services for people living with HIV and AIDS and their caregivers.

Recently, 25 people attended a symposium on HIV and AIDS education, prevention, care and treatment held at the Wesleyan Third Millennium United Methodist Church, Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. Organized by John Wesley Academy and Critical Thinking Center, the event launched the first established partnership with the Cabanatuan City Health Office on HIV education.

Dr.  Arminda A. Adecer, a United Methodist physician, leads the city health office medical team. “HIV is here in Nueva Ecija,” she said, “with the highest number in Cabanatuan City. Education is key and (the) most vital defense in order to protect the people and prevent disease.” 

Nueva Ecija, a large province at the center of Luzon island, is home to three United Methodist annual conferences: Middle Philippines (Cabanatuan City), South Nueva Ecija Philippines and Central Luzon Philippines.

Adecer said that partnership with academic and religious institutions is imperative. The city health office’s primary contribution, she noted, will be advocacy tools, education, resource people, HIV screening and testing kits, required interview and consent forms, and counseling.

John Wesley Academy and Critical Thinking Center, a program of the Middle Philippines Conference in collaboration with Wesleyan University-Philippines, offers education and training on the life and works of John Wesley with emphasis on social holiness. Improving health globally, one of four areas of focus for The United Methodist Church, is part of the institution’s curriculum. The center has hosted two national forums on HIV and AIDS education and prevention.

“In the global setting,” said Adolfo “Trio” Paras III, assistant regional coordinator for the Department of Health Office, “HIV cases (are) decreasing.” However, in the Philippines, he pointed out, the national rate has risen by 25 percent — “a very alarming rate.”

Data from April 2018 showed a reported 31 cases per day, with cumulative cases reaching 54,332. Among the provinces in the region, Nueva Ecija ranked third with the greatest number of HIV cases. “We won’t wait until every single child becomes affected by this virus,” he said. “Our goal is to preserve an HIV-free generation.”

Paras identified the high-risk groups: registered female workers (prostitutes); entertainment establishment workers (disc jockeys, waiters, bouncers, floor managers); men who have sex with men; drug dependents (those who use needles to inject drugs); and people who are incarcerated.

“Considering the growing number of young key populations afflicted with the virus,” he said, “it is very high time that we, as a united community, help … toward eradicating the stigma brought by misbeliefs about HIV. The most effective means of disseminating the truth about the epidemic is through education.”

Collaboration and networking are essential to reaching people quickly, Paras asserted.

“We need all the help we can get to fight HIV and AIDS — to disseminate information to our vulnerable population,” he said.

A program called Safe Love, he added, is one step. The international program promotes HIV advocacy, safe sex and seeking ingenious ways of protection, care and treatment.

The regional health office in the Philippines also adapted a goal set by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, that envisions “90-90-90” globally by 2020.

“Quite ambitious,” Paras admitted, “but through initiation, the following measures could be provided: Ninety percent of people with HIV must know their status by submitting to HIV testing. Ninety percent of people diagnosed with HIV must undergo antiretroviral treatment, as this disease has no cure but could be treated. Ninety percent of people undergoing treatment must achieve durable viral suppression.”

The Philippines campaign aims to end HIV in the Philippines by the year 2030. 

HIV testing is a must, Paras said. “Knowing the necessary steps before the symptoms appear, access to treatment, and care and support service are the vital benefits,” he continued. “One can take all the necessary precautions, if infected. HIV is not a death sentence.” 

Gladys Baldedara-Perez, program supervisor for HIV and AIDS and the national tuberculosis program, noted the link between TB and HIV. TB, she said, “is also known as an opportunistic infection. One-third of the world population is infected with TB; thus, it greatly affects those who have HIV because of their weak immune system.

“We need to intensify information dissemination and education. Diagnostics are free. All the people have to do is avail of the program and services and comply with the required medical management.”  

Lucille Grace Hilario, conference lay leader and connectional ministries director, volunteered for HIV testing. Recently hospitalized, she said, “I had a lot of needles injected. It was so liberating to know I am OK. Let us grab the opportunity of this partnership. Let us help people to get educated and tested.”

The Rev. Jeremias Dumaya, president of the church workers association, expressed gratitude. “It is indeed a great feeling to discover that I am HIV and AIDS free,” he said.

He urged other clergy to undergo screening to “show the community that we are supporting the cause for HIV and AIDS education and prevention.”

Baguio Episcopal Area Bishop Pedro M. Torio Jr. and his wife, Joyce, are strong advocates of HIV and AIDS education, prevention and care. He encouraged people to “welcome and love our brothers and sisters who are living with HIV and AIDS.”

“We cannot separate ourselves from the reality of HIV and AIDS,” Joyce Torio said, “because it is already here, in our church. It is always so painful when we see our very own young people getting ill or dying from it. If we don’t educate them now, how do we treat them later?”

Rio Anne Dizon, a United Methodist deaconess and John Wesley Academy and Critical Thinking Center board member, said, “The campaign toward HIV and AIDS awareness is liberating in a way that it offers information that was long considered taboo by the church and even by the school.”

She voiced hope that “more youth will be served through this campaign and partnership, schools and universities will open their doors to this kind of conversation, (and) through this, we can erase the stigma of the label ‘HIV-AIDS’ and spread education and hope instead.”

The Rev. Mario Badua, Northeast Nueva Ecija District superintendent, prayed, “We thank you, Lord, for this wonderful privilege of partnership, an avenue to best serve humanity as you have called us.”

Mangiduyos is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in the Philippines. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

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