By Lordom Grecia (Class 2021)
Last 20 February 2018, the Phi Lambda Delta Sorority (ΦΛΔ) of the UP College of Medicine held EmpoweRED, an HIV Awareness Campaign, in UP PGH ERC Room 215, as part of their celebration of Caritas Month.
Hosted by Danicca Pineda (Class 2022) and Danielle Tiu (Class 2022), the event began with welcoming remarks from Phi Lambda Delta’s Sister Caritas, Gianne Pagulayan (Class 2020).
This was followed by a series of talks from speakers who shared their perspectives and experiences with HIV.
The first speaker was Dr. Marlene Mae Bermejo, Disease Surveillance Specialist at the Public Health Surveillance Division, Epidemiology Bureau at the Department of Health. She gave insights on the current situation of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines, the increasing burden of disease in the country especially among the youth, and how awareness and education regarding testing centers and the availability of free treatment should be promoted. She ended with some tips to increase access to HIV care that should be pushed especially by healthcare professionals to reach the global targets that the Philippines has adopted for HIV control.
The second speaker was Ms. Elena Felix, an HIV advocate who shared her experiences as a person living with HIV (PLHIV). Ms. Felix, also known as Nanay Ellen, recounted her journey from almost giving up when she found out about her condition to becoming the strong advocate she is today. She shared the difficulties of being a PLHIV, and more so a woman living with HIV, especially in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. She showed the importance of fighting against the stigma surrounding PLHIV, especially women, and ended by saying that PLHIV should keep going, because they are people who give hope and who live with dignity.
The last speaker was Mr. Edgar Mutas Jr. of Love Yourself Inc., a volunteer community geared towards propagating attitudes, ideas, and practices that foster self-love. Mr. Mutas, also known as Sir Kahel, shared the importance of counseling for PLHIV, highlighting the importance of psychological and mental status beyond just the medical disease, especially when dealing with the stigma and lack of support from friends and family. He also shared some anecdotes from some clients and friends who are PLHIV, emphasizing that HIV does not have a face and can hit anyone if they aren’t careful.
The open forum panel consisted of the three speakers, as well as Dr. Genesis Samonte, Division Chief and Epidemiologist at the Public Health Surveillance Division, Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health. She explained that medical students are not at risk for HIV as much as other blood-borne infections during our rotations in the hospital so long as we adhere to anti-infective procedures and safe sex practices. She also emphasized that as medical professionals, we should not discriminate against patients who have or are at risk for HIV.
The students and workers from the health sector and elsewhere who attended had the option to avail of free testing and counseling courtesy of Love Yourself Inc. during the talks. Love Yourself Inc. also gave free condoms and lubricants to those who got tested to promote healthy sexual practices. This is the first time that EmpoweRED was able to bring free testing and counseling to UP Manila, and this is considered a new achievement by event heads Bea Valdez (Class 2021, ΦΛΔ 2017) and Kristel Tiburcio (Class 2021, ΦΛΔ 2017).
Asked about the event’s success this year, Bea Valdez says that they were able to achieve the objectives they set for themselves this year, which was to emphasize the importance of counseling, and to target healthcare professionals aside from students. She says that the idea was to begin with a review of the statistics and epidemiology of HIV, then try to present from the point of view of a patient in order to elicit more empathy and compassion. Their final objective was to go into counseling to hopefully lead to better patient education and compliance and improve health-seeking behavior. She also says that they were able to get excellent speakers this year, from well-established institutions like the DOH and Love Yourself Inc., as well as PLHIV Nanay Ellen who has been with them since the inception of the campaign a few years ago.
EmpoweRED is an HIV Awareness Campaign initiated by the Phi Lambda Delta Sorority in 2014 as a photo essay competition. Since then, there have been a series of yearly talks about the HIV status in the Philippines, experiences of PLHIV, and movements to break the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. These talks have been held in San Beda College of Medicine, Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH), University of the East – Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center (UERMMMC), and UP Diliman over the last 2 years. This latest talk is the first time since 2015 that it was held again in UP Manila. In 2016, the Phi Lambda Delta was also able to raise funds for a CD4 Machine for PGH’s PLHIV patients through Stride, a benefit fashion show in partnership with Sagip Buhay Medical Foundation.
Photos courtesy of the Phi Lambda Delta Sorority.