HIV in the Philippines: Up close and personal

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As a nurse manager assigned to the Taguig City Social Hygiene Clinic and Drop-In Center for more than a year now, I have gone through unpredictable, funny, scary, sad, happy, thrilling and worthwhile experiences that even in my wildest dreams I never imagined would happen in my life.
The days that I spent on the Big Cities project taught me how to handle different people from all walks of life, who were diagnosed HIV positive. Working there, I learned that HIV/AIDS does not choose its victims, whether rich or poor.
One of them happened to be my close friend. I really didn’t know how to tell him about his HIV status. It was hard… really hard to be his HIV counselor. It was difficult putting myself in his shoes, for example, when this diagnosis must’ve felt like the end of the world for him. But I knew that I had to be strong for my friend.
I wondered how I could help him if I wasn’t strong myself, so I promised him that I would do my best to support him, which was similar to what I do for other people living with HIV.
Before my friend’s case, I counselled an 18-year old college student living with HIV. He lived with his family and came to get his HIV test results with his mother. I didn’t know what to feel as both mother and son broke down in tears. I didn’t stop them and gave them some time to settle down. I later explained to them that there’s still hope.
Working in this field, especially in the HIV department, is overwhelming. However, I am very thankful and blessed to be here and help people continue on with their lives as normally as they can.
After all, a cure has yet to be discovered. Even if a cure is discovered, current programs must continue  to guide prevention and control efforts, as well as care for the people already infected.
The Big Cities Project targets key affected populations in the Philippines,
providing free testing and counselling to clients to help curb the spread of HIV.  

HIV has been spreading fast and furiously over the years. Infection has more than doubled every two years. Most of the cases involve males who have sex with males (MSM). Urgent action is needed, especially in metropolitan cities like Taguig City in Metro Manila, where we work closely with the local government in helping curb the spread of HIV.
Taguig City is part of the Big Cities Project supported by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, under the leadership of the Philippines Department of Health since December 2013. The project helped increase HIV awareness among MSM, as they are the most affected population.
Under the project, we conducted a mapping of hotspots and areas frequented by MSM. We were able to identify 30 hotspots among a range of 1,800 MSM. Now we are supporting and implementing these HIV/AIDS prevention programs:  
  • Holding monthly voluntary counselling and testing services at different villages in Taguig City
  • HIV 101 training among college students of Taguig City University
  • Giving lectures about HIV Awareness in the work place
  • Screening possible targeted clientele at hotspots
  • Social media outreach through GRINDR, Planet Romeo, Tinder and Facebook
  • Coordination with the LGBT Association 
Despite the setback that we experienced during the beginning of the project, we’ve made some progress. From nothing, we now have something. We can proudly say that Taguigenos are more aware of how to prevent the spread of HIV. We are also proud of this city that uses its resources to support the many HIV intervention programs targeting MSM. These initiatives will bring us closer to our objective of getting to zero: zero new HIV cases; zero discrimination; and zero aids related deaths. 


Rennan Ocheda

Drop-in Center Nurse Manager in Taguig City, Metro Manila

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