Oledan: Of concealment and denial

Slice of Life

DESPITE the effort to rectify misconceptions and myths, the stigma and discrimination on those infected with HIV and Aids in the community continue to persist which further create a barrier to prevent infection and provide adequate care, treatment, and support.

Among those infected, there is difficulty to come out within their immediate family due to the fear of being judged and be cut off from the primary unit by which support. Among employees, the fear of being reprimanded and removed from their work. The concealment is startling in that it encourages denial that results to delay in action. Added to this, the perception that not everyone is prone to HIV and AIDS.

The visibility of HIV survivors willing to talk and educate the public in the open has opened the space for the successful mobilization of communities to respond to the epidemic. Dolzura Cortez and Sarah Jane Salazar were few of the faces of the HIV and Aids campaign initiated by the Department of Health (DOH). It was through their generosity to share their experience that the sensitivity of the public was improved. They were the faces of the campaign who braved through the storm.

However, years later and with much lesser visibility of and focus in the campaign, those living with HIV are still seen as a problem and the community, disconnected in the solution.

Stigma and discrimination is an affront to human rights. It curtails the right of people living with HIV to be able to manage and obtain quality treatment and care. While some local government units like Davao City has put in place a health intervention, including establishing the sexual and reproductive clinic to provide free counseling and testing, only a few of the general populace are encouraged to submit for testing due to the fear of disclosure.

It is not only on the lack of understanding of the illness and misconceptions on how it is transmitted that stigma is enhanced but also to the lack of access to appropriate treatment, as well as on the handling of HIV and Aids cases, like the disclosure of the HIV status of a drug suspect apprehended in 2017 during a drug bust.

The existence of high-profile cases shows the need to strengthen and improve on the documentation of cases of those living with HIV being denied with their right to healthcare, work, and education, among others. There is a need to further monitor and improve the standard of care, access to HIV testing and treatment, as well as behavioral challenges among service providers to ensure consent, confidentiality, and sensitivity in the handling of cases.

In the workplace, most of those who are living with HIV who experienced discrimination were found to not seek redress for fear of being further exposed as HIV positive which could prevent future employment. Some of the documented cases cover the refusal to hire, unlawful firing and even forced resignation, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. Many had no information on how and where to report, much less support from appropriate government agencies.

Stigma and discrimination are fueled with the omission and failure to not only fully implement policies but also with the refusal to discuss HIV and Aids, including its social and economic implications. It is reflected in the lack of documentation and database among government agencies tasked to promote the health and human rights of the persons living with HIV and Aids.

It is glaring on the inability of the community to collectively respond to the epidemic. The concealment and denial need to end. (Third of three-parts)

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