QUEZON CITY — The Department of Health (DOH) celebrated its partnership with the Free to Be U campaign on Saturday through the “Festival of Luv” – a unique event that champions love, acceptance, and education.
Held in Katipunan, Quezon City, the event aims to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and to address the stigma surrounding the condition and those living with it.
“Ang Festival of Luv ay isa sa mga event namin sa Free to Be U campaign kung saan nakipag-partner kami sa Department of Health para maibigay sa mga tao kung ano ‘yung mga kailangan nilang impormasyon, para ma-protektahan nila ‘yung sarili ni sa HIV, at para malaman nila kung ano ang gagawin,” Joven Santiago, one of the event organizers said.
The day-long event featured a mix of fun and informative activities. There were also performances from popular drag queens.
In addition, the local government of Quezon City provided free HIV testing and counseling.
According to Dr. Rolly Cruz, HIV Program Manager of QC LGU, there were about 800 HIV cases reported last year in Quezon City. The number increased again after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
To facilitate the need for better access, the QC LGU invested in HIV prevention and treatment services, according to Dr. Cruz.
“Nagtayo tayo ng mga clinic, pwede silang magpunta sa gabi para sa mga kabataan. Testing is very important para malaman natin kung ikaw ay may risk behavior. At kung na-infect ka, ma-treat na natin kaagad. Kung ikaw naman ay negative sa test, binibigay natin ‘yung tinatawag na PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), isang pill para hindi ka na ma-infect caused by risk behavior,” the doctor said.
In total, there are 8 HIV testing centers located in Quezon City. The LGU emphasized that testing is for free.
Another highlight of "Festival of Luv" was the evening forum led by medical experts, advocates, and key resource persons who shared the latest updates regarding the efforts to maintain HIV epidemic control in the country.
There was also an appeal for the government to make HIV screening, treatment, and support accessible for all.
Transwoman and HIV awareness advocate Magdalena Robinson recalled that during her 20s, she learned that transgender people like her were at risk of getting HIV. But at that time, there were limited access of HIV services.
“Walang condom, walang lube, walang testing na na-offer so ‘yun ‘yung realization ko na hindi kami naaabot sa services dahil may pagkukulang din ang aming government, as well as ‘yung community ay hindi na-informed. Kailangan pala may gawin ‘yung aming community para to push forward ‘yung kakulangan,” Robinson said.
The Philippines still has one of the fastest rising numbers of HIV cases in the Asia Pacific region. The DOH has recorded a daily average of 41 new HIV cases per day in 2022 from 34 in 2021, showing more Filipinos contracting the infection at a faster rate.
Thus, intensifying the government’s initiatives to end HIV/AIDS are vital to control the said epidemic.