BAGUIO CITY -- "We remember - we will never forget," Metropolitan Community Church's (MCC) Pastor Myke Sotero of the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender (LGBT) community posted in the social networking site Facebook on May 23, 2012.
Sotero was among participants to the Multi-Stakeholders Forum on Health and Rights Awareness that highlighted the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros, Manila on the same day.
The LGBT community is among various groups, which are said to be highly vulnerable to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.
Sotero is a pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Baguio City. He administers same-sex unions in Baguio City and elsewhere and is aware of the consequences of acquiring HIVAIDS through unsafe sexual relationships.
Together in the same venue, participating groups remembered those who succumbed to AIDS through a Memorial Quilt, where names of some of those who used to live with AIDS were engraved, sewn, embroidered, appliqued or simply printed.
Friends and kin remember 45 year-old Vic, 30 year-old Mila, Helen, Ramona, Orli and many more faceless and nameless victims, who left a lot more widows, widowers and orphans.
Some 800 Filipinos tested positive for HIV according to the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare (PNGOC), which organized the commemoration together with Pinoy Plus Association Inc. (PPAI). The figure does not include Filipinos living in other countries.
Thirty of the 799 were reported AIDS cases, only one of whom is female, according to the HIV/AIDS registry for March 2012.
Dr. Ma. Lorena Santos of the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC), in a recent media forum, confirmed that HIVAIDS remains a concern in the region. Since May 2006 to April 2012, there are 45 HIVAIDS cases including patients from outside the city or from nearby provinces and recorded nine deaths.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2009 some 33.3 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS, with some 2.6 million people newly infected with HIV in that year, which registered 1.8 million deaths due to HIV/AIDS.
In the United States alone, more than one million are said to be currently living with HIVAIDS.
Sotero's partner, Gregory Rugay, MCC-Metro Baguio secretary general still recalls how one of his friends cut all communications with family and close friends shortly after he learned he had AIDS, which eventually claimed him.
"We just learned of his death, but I think the family knew he had AIDS but did not care to know how it all started," he said.
Like Sotero, Rugay is aware if HIVAIDS and proudly said that his church once earned the moniker AIDS Church because it was the first church that administered to persons living with HIVAIDS when no one was courageous enough to reach out to them.
"In the 80s, MCC was known as the AIDS Church. That was the time in history when nobody knew about AIDS and (people) were afraid to come near persons with AIDS. People from MCC went to hospitals to administer to HIV-afflicted patients," Rugay said as he related a segment in the MCC history in the US.
MCC lived up to that reputation as it continues to build awareness on the concerns relating to HIVAIDS said Rugay.
The AIDS Memorial quilt is a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic.
Dr. Eden Divinagracia, executive director of PNGOC said the quilt provides an opportunity for collective grief and healing in a world that was largely intolerant of people with HIV.
"The project will preserve the powerful images and stories contained within the Quilt while expanding its AIDS awareness and HIV prevention education efforts," Divinagracia said.
PPAI's Eddy Razon said the AIDS Memorial Quilt has been used to fight prejudice, raise awareness and funding, as a means to link hands with the global community in the struggle against AIDS, and as an effective tool in HIV and AIDS education and prevention.
Meanwhile in Baguio City several concerned groups will also do the AIDS memorial candlelight at People's Park on May 25 through the City’s AIDS Watch Council (AWAC) composed of government and private agencies and institutions/organization. Dr. Charles Cheng, a private practitioner of oriental medicine, leads AWAC, with the Reproductive Health and Wellness Center (RHWC) of the City Health Services Office in its secretariat.
This year's commemoration includes a fitting program with exhibits to be capped by a candle-lighting ceremony.
City HSO-RHWC Head Dr. Celiaflor Brillantes told reporters that Baguio City through AWAC has been embarking on a long-term fight against HIVAIDS.
Since 1992 there have been 49 HIVAIDS cases, with 17 deaths in Baguio City. In 2011 alone, eight HIV cases were recorded, patients getting younger and more prevalent among men having sex with men (MSM).
Rugay advised MSM to actively educate themselves, although he does not buy the idea that MSM is among the most vulnerable sectors, because AIDS knows no sector.
"Kasi hindi naman namimili ang AIDs eh, kahit sino pag na-expose sa AIDs malaki ang chance na ma-infect din," (AIDS does not pick anyone. Everyone exposed to the virus may be infected) Rugay said.
HIVAIDS is transferred from an infected individual to his/her partner through the exchange of body fluids as blood, and reproductive juices or through blood transfusion, sharing of needles and syringes and intimate sexual relationships.
NIAIDS lists risk factors in the acquisition of HIV, which is found in the blood, semen, or vaginal fluid of someone who is infected with the virus. People may have increased risk of becoming infected with HIV if they:
Engage in anal, vaginal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners without using a condom;
Inject drugs or steroids where needles/syringes are shared;
Have a sexually transmitted infection, such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis;
Have been diagnosed with hepatitis, tuberculosis, or malaria;
Exchange sex for drugs or money;
Are exposed to the virus as a fetus or infant before or during birth or through breastfeeding from a mother infected with HIV;Department of
Received a blood transfusion or clotting factor in the United States anytime from 1978 to 1985;
Engage in unprotected sex with someone who has any of the risk factors listed above.
HIV, however cannot survive for very long outside of the body. It cannot be transmitted through routine daily activities such as using a toilet seat, sharing food utensils or drinking glasses, shaking hands, or through kissing.
The virus can only be transmitted from person to person, not through animals or insect bites. People infected with HIV who are taking antiretroviral therapy can still infect others through unprotected sex and needle-sharing. # Lyn V. Ramo