AMSTERDAM - With DJs playing in the background while you hair is being cut and colored, there’s no better way to start the festive month of December. But at Jitty’s, the 17-year-old hair and make-up salon owned by Filipino Jitty Dela Cruz and her partner Ronald Pronk, it is not just about feeling happy with your hair but a moment to support a cause.
Part of the salon’s proceeds during the Word AIDS Day celebration last December 1 was given to Dutch charity AIDS Fonds and The Red Whistle, a Philippine-based collaborative platform for people and organizations to come together and show their support for those living with HIV and AIDS.
In the salon, new and regular clients were welcomed with a message to think about how to work together to combat HIV and AIDS. Information flyers and posters decked the salon and everyone donned red ribbons on their chest.
It was a happy and hopeful scene against a backdrop of a seemingly grim HIV/AIDS statistics in the Philippines, where prevalence is highest in Southeast Asia and climbing at an alarming rate.
According to the UNAIDS 2018 report on the global HIV epidemic, the number of new infections in the Philippines has more than doubled in the past six years from an estimated 4,419 in 2010 to an estimated 13,384 by end of 2018, or about a 203-percent increase.
Statistics show that the country has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific, and has become one of eight countries that account for more than 85 percent of new HIV infections in the region, according to the UNAIDS report.
“My first awareness of HIV and AIDS was in 1996 when I had a lot of friends in Amsterdam who died of the disease without proper medication because at the time, the medicine was not yet introduced. I was happy that it was introduced in 1997 where it had saved many lives,” Dela Cruz said.
She added that the reason they’re doing the World AIDS Day benefit was to give back to her adopted city that cared for her as a migrant and to her home country the Philippines.
Her partner Pronk said he has come to love Filipinos and the Philippines because of 25 years of living with Jitty. He thinks there is still little information about the problem in the Philippines on education, prevention and cure.
“Last year, I saw a diagram where the amount of new (HIV/AIDS) cases in the Philippines has skyrocketed. It is really disturbing… It is an alarming situation and that shocked me. I’m not Filipino but I have become part of the Filipinos and the Philippines. So I think maybe we have to do something there,” said Pronk, a DJ who came up with the idea of having DJs playing at the salon while the staff cut and color away.
One of the DJs who played during the fundraising event was Sheryl Lynn Baas, the Dutch-Filipina beauty queen-turned DJ who is partly based in Manila. The event was also supported by the Filipino LGBT Europe where HIV/AIDS awareness and testing is one of its main campaigns.
Dela Cruz and Pronk plan to bring the concept of “music, hair and awareness” to the Philippines to try to send the same message in a different environment.
“If you’re in a country where there is stigma and you wouldn’t get yourself tested and even the funding is not there to get yourself tested… This is an epidemic… In an epidemic you have to get the least of people infected because 2 will make 4, 4 will make 16, 16 will make 64, 64 will make 300, 300 will make 1,400 and so on,” Pronk said.
According to The Red Whistle information pamphlet, in the Philippines, the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases is due to compounding factors such as little knowledge about the risk of unprotected sex and the stigma that surrounds the disease, where it is not widely or openly talked about.
There is also the issue of the use of condom and the bad quality that users get in the Philippines. Additionally, HIV testing for minors is not allowed unless with parents’ consent and the deeply religious promote no contraceptives that leads to unprotected sex.