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Be in the know with this health literacy campaign about HIV/AIDS

by Jericho Zafra

RECENT data from the Department of Health showed that younger populations are getting infected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). 

According to the latest HIV/AIDS Registry of the Philippines data, 86 Filipinos aged 19 and under were infected with HIV in January 2023.

The country’s health department reported earlier that there were a total of 1,454 new HIV diagnoses for January 2023. Based on this figure, an average of 46 new cases of HIV are reported every day.

In line with this, the DOH partnered with EpiC Philippines and various organizations to promote accessible HIV services for Filipinos. 

Recently, they kicked off their “#FreeToBeU para sa isang #HealthyPilipinas,” a campaign that “ensures the inclusion of health literacy about HIV and AIDS in the DOH’s comprehensive health promotions framework.”

The campaign not only featured interactive activities for the youth, it also provided free confidential HIV testing and the preventive drug Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a medication given to avoid getting infected with HIV.

In an attempt to encourage youths and other millennials to join the campaign, the organization brought together famous drag artists in the country, including Jiggly Caliente of RuPaul’s Drag Race US franchise, Drag Den Season 1 winner NAIA, Shewarma, Myx Chanel, and drag queens from Drag Race Philippines Viñas Deluxe, Corazon, Prince, and Minty Fresh.

“Latest epidemiological data shows that more and more younger Filipinos get exposed to risks for HIV, which is why the event capitalized on the voice of these prominent drag queens in creating influence among young people towards HIV awareness and service access,” EpiC Project Philippines Project Director Teresita Bagasao told republicasia in an interview.

The campaign

Bagasao said that in February 2022, the hashtag #FreeToBeU was created with the intention of promoting the HIV services that are freely available to be accessed at government social hygiene clinics as well as safe spaces that are run by a variety of community-based organizations across the country. 

It was at around this time that QuickRes.org was also established, she said.  

QuickRes is a website for an HIV booking service that makes it simple to get in touch with participating clinics that provide HIV testing, HIV treatment, and other services related to sexual health issues. These include the provision of PrEP. 

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-United States Agency for International Development EpiC project brought QuickRes to the Philippines in order to allow consumers to easily book HIV services in certain partner facilities in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and in CALABARZON. 

This year, #FreeToBeU formally joined the DOH’s comprehensive health literacy campaign for Filipinos called #HealthyPilipinas, and it became a part of the department’s sexual and reproductive health programs.

Safe spaces

“#FreeToBeU promotes a judgment-free space for individuals when accessing HIV services, ranging from prevention to treatment, without fear of the stigma around HIV. The campaign’s main message is that when you access these services, which are mostly free, you are free to be yourself,” Bagasao said.

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“If you are a PLHIV, by accessing treatment, you are free to be Undetectable; if you are HIV-negative, by accessing HIV prevention methods such as PrEP, you are Free to Be U as well,” she added.

With this campaign, Bagasao is expecting that advocates will reach more members of people living with HIV and those who may need protection from contracting the virus. 

The campaign also seeks to provide the community “with the necessary education and resources” in order for them to live a life free from discrimination, she said. 

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