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𝐅𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐚𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐋𝐮𝐯: 𝐇𝐈𝐕’𝐬 𝐒𝐭𝐢𝐠𝐦𝐚 𝐨𝐟 𝐍𝐞𝐠𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐏𝐡𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐩𝐩𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬


By Edwin Allan Diaz

Photos courtesy of EpiC Philippines


Kailangang mahalin natin ang ating mga sarili at kailangang mahalin natin kung sinuman ang gusto nating mahalin (We need to love ourselves and to be able to love whoever we want to love).” These were the words of Quezon City (QC) Mayor Joy Belmonte during “Festival of Luv’’ at The Pop Up, Katipunan, last February 25, 2023. The event featured live drag performances from Minty Fresh, Prince, Jiggly Caliente, and Viñas DeLuxe of Drag Race Philippines, NAIA and Shewarma of Drag Den Philippines, and Myx
Chanel. Attendees also enjoyed free face painting and caricature, as well as a speed dating session.

“Festival of Luv is part of the ‘Free To Be U’ campaign of Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) Philippines. EpiC collaborated with the Department of Health (DOH) Healthy Pilipinas ‘to bring HIV services closer to the populations affected by HIV,’” said Joven Santiago, EpiC’s technical
advisor for Social and Behavior Change Communication. EpiC and DOH launched the campaign in 2022, which informs the public about available free human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention services and treatment. It works with organizations and advocates from the persons living with HIV (PLHIV) community, building safe spaces and destigmatizing the public’s perception of HIV. A medical forum was held in between drag performances to discuss the topic of safer and more fun sex. LGBTQIA+ members, PLHIV, medical experts, and representatives from Positibong Pasigueño, Love Yourself, TLF Share, and QC Health Department answered questions from the audience.

All attendees were invited to write on the freedom wall and bring home condoms and lubricants.

Belmonte continued, “I’m also very proud to say that in Quezon City, we are also the leading city in advocating na basagin ang stigma ng discrimination dito sa atin pong lungsod (that we eradicate the stigma to end discrimination here in our city).”

Santiago acknowledges this, which is EpiC’s main challenge in addressing HIV in the Philippines. “There’s a negative connotation [in the Philippines] about having multiple sexual partners. If ever they are to get an HIV test, they are afraid that people might think that they are promiscuous.” For attendees to determine their HIV status, the event offered free HIV testing at a tent. It covered pre-test counseling, testing, and post-test counseling, with the results given on the same day, according to case manager Anthony Villanueva of Klinika Bernardo. HIV-FREE BY 2030 With Quezon City’s “Tayo Ang Solusyon” program and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)’s “2030 95–95–95 HIV Fast Track” goals,
Filipinos can live healthy and normal lives without fear of HIV. The first aims to end HIV in Quezon City and the country by 2030, guided by their commitment to the latter. “Ninety-five percent of all persons living with HIV must know their status; 95 percent of those who know their status must be on antiretroviral therapy (ART); and 95 percent of those on ART must have suppressed and untransmissible viral
loads,” continued Belmonte.

Santiago said most of the disinformation about HIV stems from the first generation of PLHIV; they didn’t know what to do and how to prevent HIV before. But now there’s “U=U” or Undetectable equals Untransmissible, where a person’s viral load count would not be detected six months after adhering to treatment. Once undetectable, HIV can’t be passed through sexual intercourse. He added, “In recent years, we have pre-exposure prophylaxis (PReP), a pill that an HIV-negative individual can take, either every day or through the other method of taking it if you are to have sex. PReP is there to protect HIV-negative individuals and people living with HIV.” With a referral system like QuickRes, individuals can book an HIV self-test, initiate ART, test their viral load, and initiate pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), to name a few.
Through QuickRes and other EpiC partners like LoveYourself, PATH Philippines, and Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines, the country now has stronger safe spaces and communities that remove the stigma of HIV.

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