By JE Mariano (Class 2023)
The UP Medicine Student Council (MSC), Medical Students for Social Responsibility-IPPNW, One’s True Nature (OTN), and Phi Lambda Delta Sorority organized a human library last December 6th at the Paz Mendoza Building. Entitled “Safe Space”, the event featured three speakers, all women living with HIV, shared their personal stories of struggle and triumph – books of their lives, so to speak.
A Person with HIV: A Person Living with Dignity
Miss Elena Felix worked as a seamstress in the Middle East to provide for her children and escape from an abusive husband. Following diagnosis with HIV, she was deemed “unfit for work,” prompting her to return home. She was given five to ten years to live at a time when antiretroviral therapy (ART) was still unavailable, but with tenacity and the support of her children, she was able to overcome the odds.
However, a diagnosis of myoma acquainted her with the harsh realities of a discriminatory and still-uneducated society and healthcare system. She was denied an operation at the last minute when her HIV status was disclosed to the operating team. She was rudely treated and avoided by hospital staff, and she had to deal with having her status broadcast to strangers and passersby.
Miss Elena was ultimately able to undergo surgery and start on ART. Now, 24 years later living with HIV, she stands proud as a community-based screening motivator and counselor, advocate, lobbyist and mentor.
A Struggle to Life
Struggle was the central theme in the second speaker’s story – the youngest of three siblings raised by a single mother working as a laundry woman. With no means to pursue a higher education after graduating from high school, she worked as a server and fell prey to risky behavior. Following the death of her husband from complications due to AIDS, she was diagnosed with HIV and given only a few years to live. But, determined to see her daughter finish school and start a family of her own, she persevered and thirteen years later is now a steadfast advocate for awareness of HIV and acceptance of persons living with it.
A Journey of a Mother Living with HIV
The third speaker was another single mother who worked abroad to provide for her children and who had to return to the country following diagnosis with HIV. In spite this, she was able to remarry and once more become a mother. After ten years of living with HIV, she aims to raise awareness for and reduce the maternal transmission of the virus.
All three women emphasized the importance of a strong support system and work to be that for people newly diagnosed with HIV as well as their families. They have turned their condition, which they once feared and denied, into an opportunity to change their lives and to educate and inspire others.
Safe Space: HIV Human Library is part of HIV Week 2018, a week-long HIV awareness campaign organized by the UP MSC, MSSR-IPPNW, OTN and Phi Lambda Delta Sorority. Another installment of Human Library is to be hosted by MSSR-IPPNW next year.
Miss Elena Felix gave consent to share her story without censoring her identity.
Photos from Pamela Pasco and Lyka Perias