Test case

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales () - August 28, 2011 - 12:00am

There’s a great divide between myself and my friends whose marital status is ‘married.’Speaking to a happily married professional banker about HIV testing, the look I received was one of incredulity.As if, the last thing she expected to hear from my mouth was “HIV test.” Her face was a picture of amazement, as if she couldn’t believe we were actually talking about AIDS.Perhaps, she never expected that my mind actually harbored thoughts of a dreaded disease.

I was amazed at her reaction too, but in hindsight, perhaps shouldn’t have been.Her world of husbands and babies and school schedules, coupled with bank clients and investment products, probably doesn’t collide too often with people at risk for HIV infection.HIV isn’t part of her normal reality.

But, at least, her next reaction was something to be pleased about.She wasn’t negative or judgmental.No expression of distaste crossed her features.It was full speed ahead with her discussing the why’s and the how’s, and we spent enjoyable minutes laughing at the stupidity of hysterical teenagers growing up in that era when AIDS was an unknown killer striking down the most gorgeous of movie stars in the US Coasts.

Twenty years ago, however, there would have been no reason to laugh.Fear was the predominant emotion in those days.Romantic notions and crushes had to be stamped down and brutally butchered.Every white person in this country was looked at suspiciously.(Ok, that might have been too broad – let’s just say every white-looking person in Manila that we encountered).Was he infected?Who had he slept with?

 The coming of age ritual wasn’t a circumcision – it was the HIV test, when friends clustered around each other and tried to lend each other the support they themselves needed.After all, where else could they get that support?Certainly not from parents who would reject the notion that their twink son was even sexually active.We saw the bravery of many gay men those days, friends who went ahead with the test despite the certain death sentence it was going to spell for them.At that time, there wasn’t any treatment in sight, and so testing positive meant the end of their future, their careers, and their romantic dreams.Ah, never had ‘negative’ become so positive.

Then came hope.The numbers weren’t so bad.Infection rates in this country were not as high compared to, say Thailand.(Africa, of course, was a disaster.)And, with the discovery of combination therapy and retroviral drugs, having the virus didn’t mean the end, as the original five-year sentence started stretching to an indefinite lifespan.

Maybe these medical developments brought complacency.The ordinary folks weren’t so scared anymore by the unknown.We now know what causes it, and how to prevent it.And there are medicines available, so why worry about it?Plus, it’s a new generation growing up now, armed with the invincibility of youth, and spared from the scars we endured.The baby boomers and Gen X failed to watch out for Gen Y and the millenials.And so now, the numbers are climbing.

The Department of Health reports that this past month of July, there were 204 newly reported cases of HIV.That brings the total, year to date, to 1,220.And those are only the reported figures.Of these new cases, eleven was due to drug use.The rest were infected due to sexual contact, with 81% of these being men reporting sexual contact with other men, and sadly, they were young males between the ages of 24 to 30.

If there’s any reason for people from other worlds and other realities to be conscious of HIV, perhaps these statistics should be that reason.There is an epidemic happening out there.And it’s spreading.While some can pooh-pooh the situation and rationalize that after all, those are only gay guys and drug users who are getting infected (and why should they care about poofs and druggies?), sooner or later, other sectors are going to feel the impact.Or are feeling the impact.

The DOH says they’re trying to deal with it.But given the growing numbers, it’s obviously not enough.People have to get conscious about this virus (again.)Hopefully, it shouldn’t take me having to recount the ordeals of an HIV test to awaken that consciousness in my friends.

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