By Ibarra C. Mateo
Medical doctor Louie Ocampo is the current country director for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in the Philippines.
The position places him at the forefront of the Philippines’ arduous fight to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In a recent presentation of the Philippine HIV/AIDS data, Ocampo said the cases of new HIV infections locally had ballooned by 203 percent during the period 2010-2018.
In the year 2019, Ocampo said that 77 percent of HIV-infected persons are “aware” of their status, 57 percent are into anti-retroviral therapy, and eight percent are being tested for viral load.
Ocampo sounded the call to keep on pushing the drive against HIV/AIDS despite the challenges. “We need to focus on scaling up the HIV response in the regions to have a better accomplishment,” he said.
Ocampo said the Philippines has “the fastest growing epidemic in the world,” quoting a 2018 UNAIDS study.
He explained the report’s details. The Philippines is the “fastest growing in terms of growth rate” if the data in 2010 and 2018 were compared.
However, Ocampo said “in terms of absolute number, it is still very low and we have not defeated African countries when it comes to the number of cases.”
Ocampo said that the HIV epidemic during the period between 1984 to 2009, which he termed as the first wave, was due to men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and heterosexual contacts, while the second wave (2010-2017) was spurred primarily by MSM contacts.
What was particularly disturbing and disconcerting to Ocampo is the low level of awareness and knowledge among the young members of the Philippine population, or the MSM in the youth sector. This particular sector must understand how the HIV is transmitted and can be prevented, a significant step toward combatting the epidemic.
The use of condom must be popularized and increased, Ocampo said, while acknowledging that reproductive health services should be accessible and available to the youth.
A source of concern and discomfort for Ocampo is the fact that two of three new infections are in the 15-24 age bracket. If not checked, this age group will have about 19,300 new cases by 2022.
The UNAIDS has projected the Philippines to record 201,000 HIV cases by 2025, a significant increase from 56,000 cases in 2016 and 142,000 cases estimated for 2022.
Along with these grim data, Ocampo said that stigma and discrimination are still victimizing Filipinos with HIV/AIDS. And this twin scourge must be decisively confronted, he said.
Theater and HIV/AIDS Awareness
In a bid to further raise awareness on HIV/AIDS, the UNAIDS Philippines has supported the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) and several civil society organizations working on HIV/AIDS concerns to stage “Under My Skin,” written by Rodolfo Vera and directed by Melvin Lee.
Under My Skin, which closes the 52nd season of PETA, is “an anthology drama about the stories of Filipinos living with HIV.”
The play introduces the audience to a number of characters affected by the epidemic, and their stories are woven together by epidemiologist Dr. Gemma Almonte.
Almonte hopes for a change in public perception, an increase in compassion, and a society afflicted not with ignorance and prejudice, but with compassion and understanding.
On Under My Skin, a commissioned piece requested by TV and film director Andoy Ranay in 2016, playwright Vera said the play was “based on people he personally knows and loves.”
“I decided to write in multiple stories that will somehow mirror the overwhelming increase of HIV cases. And yet nobody seems to be as alarmed, thinking that it’s just a gay disease,” Vera said.
Under My Skin is a part of the PETA “Acting on HIV” campaign.
Director Lee said the theater is a timely avenue to discuss and confront topics such as this in order to spark discussions.
“A change in mindset is important, that HIV is not just a gay issue since it can affect anybody of any age. It is not simply a private concern, but one that is a public concern. The spread of HIV is a multi-faceted issue,” Lee said.
“The material’s strength is the authenticity of the stories and it has to be told in the most raw form and truthful fashion,” Lee said.
Under My Skin features television, film, and theater artists Cherry Pie Picache, Roselyn Perez, Miguel Almendras, Mike Liwag, Anthony Falcon, and Dylan Talon, together with PETA artists such as Eko Baquial, Gio Gahol, Gold Villar-Lim, She Maala, Mico Esquivel, Bene Manaois, Lotlot Bustamante, Kitsi Pagaspas, Ekis Gimenez, Erold Enriquez, Jarred Jaicten, Joseph Madriaga, Jason Barcial, Dudz Teraña, Rachelle Gimpes, Reggie Ondevilla, Roy Dahildahil, and Csai Habla.
Under My Skin runs from Feb. 7 to March 22, 2020 ( with Friday shows at 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays shows at 3 pm and 8 pm), at the PETA Theater Center, #5 Eymard Drive, Brgy. Kristong Hari, New Manila, Quezon City.
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