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A Day in a Home of Persons Living with HIV
By Leo Solinap

(First of two parts)

When some people think of a person living with HIV, they are inclined to exclude themselves from those persons in their imagination before looking at the person first.

This is commonly the result of a judgmental mind-set because some people think HIV or AIDS is incurable and can be transferred to anyone just easily.
The truth is, HIV can only be acquired through unsafe sex, sharing of injectable needles, unscreened blood transfusion, or if one is born with HIV.
Recently, this writer met Jasmin Ramirez of the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP) in Taft Avenue in Manila. After learning that she is talking to a journalist, she expressed her sentiments including how the media should be responsible and sensitive in reporting the HIV/AIDS cases in the country.

"Persons with HIV can have a normal life just like others. We should understand that these people who were infected with the disease have the right to live their normal life and should not be discriminated by the public," she said.

"Sometimes, the media doesn't realize how these people and their families are affected especially if they will be exposed to the public who are armed with the wrong information based from sensationalized stories."
To prove these people are wrong, Ramirez said there is an NGO in Malate wherein any media practitioner can avail of HIV/AIDS information. The place is called the Positive Action Foundation Philippines Incorporated (PAFPI).

I found out the office is located in one of the apartment units, within the center of a very populated residential area in Malate just across a national road.

Ramirez said, as part of the confidentiality and to protect these people who have been doing their best in the community, it is better to withhold the exact address of the place.

Outside the place, there are no streamers, no signboards or anything to identify them as an NGO working with HIV-infected people.
According to Joshua C.T. Formantera, President and Executive Director of the PAFPI, their mission is the continuing fight for HIV/AIDS prevention and control and facilitate support responses to the need of People Living With HIV and AIDS (PLWHAs) and their families.

Finding and looking for persons infected with HIV was way out of my mind while talking to Formantera and Ramirez who gave me a glimpse of how their lives are with HIV+ people.

While chatting with Formantera, several young men and women, and even children kept arriving in the foundation with some stories to tell. They share stories of their experience during the day and do office work.
I even can't tell who among them is HIV+ and who is not. Besides, it was unethical for me to ask who among them have HIV because the purpose of my visit is not to take their numbers but to witness how they live, eat, work and appear in public.

While sitting in a corner of the 5x10 meter apartment, I could see that the people there look the same as the individuals I meet in malls, jeepneys and in the roads.

These means, if HIV will be endemic in the Philippines, we can never tell who has been infected and who was not. He may be the person next to us when we are inside the jeepneys, a person on our neighborhood, or even our visitor at home.

That time, it came across my mind that maybe these people whom I expected to be HIV positives are not here and hiding because of the presence of a journalist in their house. They think I might take advantage of my visit, pry some stories from the group and make a sensationalized story. But of course, it wasn't my intention.

Hours later, the same people around me were sharing stories of which I am familiar with - testimonies of people having HIV. I also learned that the volunteers were famously known as "royal bloods." If there's one thing that I like about the place, it's the fact that I found it not hard to blend with them in just a few hours.

It was late in the afternoon that I decided to leave the foundation. However, they invited me for dinner with the other members. Without any hesitation or doubts, I accepted the offer.

I was not able to join the main group for dinner that evening because the plates were not enough for all of us to use. They still have to wash the plates.
Anyway, after everything was set in place, I joined some members in the table.

We feasted on chopsuey and fish. Everything on the table was delightful. The foods were cooked very well by one of the staff.

It was a nice dinner, which I shared with people whom I suspected, have HIV.

Some may ask, why is this man eating from things used by HIV-infected people? Is it possible that he may infected by HIV or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus because he ate from the same plates that they used and washed?

My answer would be an analogy of the state of pregnancy. If I eat from a pregnant person's plate, would I get pregnant too?

HIV cannot be transmitted on the mere transfer of saliva. In fact, it would take gallons of saliva before one can be infected. Neither can using the same plates or even eating with them infect one.

HIV is not airborne, or even can stay outside human body for minutes. If they ever they have this HIV, I'm not afraid that I may be infected by shaking hands with them.

In fact, I even more afraid that I might infect them with my flu. (To be concluded)


All rights reserved. Sun.Star Weekend 2001


.APRIL 29-MAY 5, 2001

A Day in a Home of Persons Living with HIV

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