And they came prepared: At the launch of Durex’s campaign “Always Come Prepared” to curb the rising HIV cases in the Philippines are radio jock Slick Rick, Reckitt Benckiser regulatory and policy director Atty. Ricky Salvador, sex therapist Dr. Rica Cruz, UNAIDS Philippines country director Dr. Louie Ocampo, Reckitt Benckiser general manager Chris Ritchie, infectious disease expert Dr. Marion Kwek, Love Yourself and safe spaces advocate Iosif Cadelina, and radio jocks Toni Tony and Sam YG.
Mission: To curb rising HIV cases among the youth
SLICE OF LIFE - Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - October 2, 2018 - 12:00am

There was a time when the mere mention of the word AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was enough to make anyone tremble in fear, mainly because of the many misconceptions surrounding this deadly disease like, for instance, you can get it from kissing somebody who has it or when a person with AIDS sneezes. I remember reluctantly covering an AIDS press event decades ago, where media people had an upclose-and-personal encounter with some AIDS patients housed at the San Lazaro Hospital. While interviewing an AIDS patient, my heart sank when I saw another patient pass by. She looked like a walking skeleton, her pitifully frail body wracked by sores. After lunch, when I arrived at the office, nobody would dare come near me unless I got myself disinfected first.

Our mortal fear of AIDS probably died when Hollywood celebrities stricken with AIDS came out to put a face on the disease and lend their brave voices in the world’s bruising battle against this growing health problem.

Today, the battle rages on. And now, we’re here at Yes, Please (yes, that’s the name of this bar in BGC, Taguig) for the press launch of Durex’s “Always Come Prepared” campaign to curb the rising HIV cases in the country. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that over time, if left untreated, causes AIDS. “If you liken it to cancer, HIV is simply stage one while AIDS is stage four,” Dr. Marion Aurellado-Kwek, infectious disease consultant, tells us. 

Dr. Louie Ocampo, UNAIDS Philippines country director, shares the disturbing statistics (based on the 2018 UNAIDS Global Report): 68,000 persons in the Philippines living with AIDS with only 24,000 on antiretroviral treatment, and 12,000 new HIV infections. “If this trend continues, in a matter of 10 years, this number will triple, or there will be 265,000 cases by the end of 2028-2029.”

Dr. Ocampo adds, “We have a 174-percent increase in new cases in 2017 vs. 2010. That puts the country as one with the fastest-growing AIDS epidemic not only in Asia but also in the Pacific region.”

As if we hadn’t heard enough, Dr. Ocampo drops the ultimate bomb: “The age group is getting lower and lower, with 52 percent coming from the 25-34 bracket and a third from the 15- to 24-year-olds. So, technically, our young people are the most affected group in terms of HIV infection.”

The concerned doctor laments, “If half of our youth population have HIV, how can they, as Dr. Jose Rizal said with great hope, be the hope of our motherland?”

Why the prevalence of HIV among young people? Dr. Ocampo replies, “Because sexual debut starts at 12 years old (still the major transmission of HIV is through sexual contact); the median age for sex is 16. Only seven percent of them have correct knowledge of HIV.”

Nat, the young guy from another paper covering the event, corroborates Doc Louie’s statistics. He relates, “Almost all my classmates in college were doing it. I had a classmate who was so addicted to sex she had a constant sex buddy.”

While not encouraging promiscuity, our speakers agree that prevention through the correct use of condoms is the magic bullet to curbing the escalating incidence of HIV among the youth. UNAIDS’ position statement points out, “Condom use is a critical element in a comprehensive, effective, and sustainable approach to HIV prevention and treatment.”

“I’m a parent of a 14-year-old myself,” says kind and caring dad Chris Ritchie, Reckitt Benckiser general manager. “Anyone who works in my company will tell you I’m the most passionate because the situation in the Philippines is one that I am shocked by. The growth rates are unacceptable and entirely preventable. And until you have not only decreasing growth rates but a negligible situation, there’s going to be an unrelenting passion that comes from my company (which owns Durex, one of the best-selling condom brands in the world) to help increase awareness of the problem, open up dialogues among families at the government level to try to make this problem go away.”

Yes, they always come prepared, declare radio jocks Sam YG, Toni Tony, and Slick Rick, the irrepressible trio of Boys Night Out, as they point at the quirky visual of a battle-ready toy soldier suspended on a condom parachute to imply bringing down HIV to a more understandable level to the general public, particularly the youth. 

Iosif Cadelina, Love Yourself and safe spaces volunteer, encourages persons with HIV to visit their HIV centers for free counseling and treatment. “You can call and get advice on testing, treatment, and HIV-related issues. We also have sundown clinics. We’re active on social media, too.”

The fearless goal is to end the AIDS epidemic in cities by 2030. It will surely take more than a village to realize that. But with everyone working together with unflinching passion and commitment, it won’t be long before we kiss the HIV/AIDS epidemic goodbye forever!

AIDS DUREX HIV
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