There’s a certain kind of contradiction the local MSM community faces when when dealing with HIV/AIDS. On one hand, we have seen the dramatic rise in the number of detected HIV infections over the last few years and how the MSM segment forms the bulk of the recent statistics. This trend is quite alarming and points to the need to shake the community from its complacency. HIV is real and we are not yet doing enough to curb the problem.
On the other hand, sounding the alarms is having an undesired effect on PLUs. Most guys would want to ignore the problem, think that it wouldn’t affect them, and in their ignorance, engage in unsafe practices. So other people try to do their damned best to spread information, encourage people to get tested, and to teach that getting infected with HIV is not a death sentence.
Therein lies the contradiction. HIV is a deadly threat that needs to be addressed, yet it is not a death sentence.
To explain this contradiction, one must realize that this is all due to the stigma attached to the disease that is borne out of fear and ignorance. Cancer kills far more Filipinos yearly than AIDS ever did, yet while we dread getting cancer, we don’t attach the same stigma to it that we do to HIV/AIDS. It it simply because AIDS is an as-yet incurable disease while there are already treatments for certain types of cancer? Is it because most people think that cancer is an old person’s ailment (but cancer can strike the young too)? Is it because HIV is contagious while cancer is not?
Whatever the answer, keep in mind that given early diagnosis and proper treatment, HIV patients could possibly live far longer post-diagnosis and lead more productive lives than many cancer patients do after diagnosis especially when the latter is faced with expensive treatments (not to say that HIV antiretroviral drugs aren’t expensive). Look at former NBA player Magic Johnson for inspiration: he’s still alive and kicking 20 years after he was diagnosed as infected with HIV in 1991.
HIV/AIDS stigma is borne out of fear and ignorance. We are already addressing the latter through information campaigns and the like (though more help is welcome). But so far, there hasn’t been a concerted effort to address the fear component. Especially for people who fear getting tested. So I’m quite happy to support The Love Yourself Project, a local effort to help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS through education and counseling.
I think that telling people that it will be OK and that there is support is the one thing that’s been missing in this fight against HIV/AIDS. And I’m glad that The Love Yourself Project is there to help.