Lights on: HIV/AIDs is not just about ending the stigma
It is almost like an unwritten yet well-ingrained norm that every time the terms Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) surface, the initial call to action dives mainly into two things: to raise awareness and to end the stigma. While it is true that these measures remain pivotal in combating the outspread of HIV and AIDS, the gravity that these illnesses pose among Filipinos requires more than reactive and conventional schemes — because rather than tolerance, the abolishment of a culture-driven system and dogmatic beliefs to mitigate HIV and AIDS should be the bottom line.
The “Youth Epidemic”
The Philippines remains to be one of the countries in the world that carries the highest growing number of HIV/AIDS cases. As the alarming numbers continue to speak volume and urgency, the prevalence of these illnesses entails a suppressed narrative that concerns the youth. Even in the midst of a deadly pandemic, HIV/AIDS among teenagers and adolescents is still prevalent in the Philippines, with the Department of Health (DOH) recording 259 cases from the 15-24-year-old age group, out of the 934 cases from January to June in the previous year. The number, along with the decade-long history of HIV/AIDs in the country, thereby solidifies the notion that there is an existing HIV/AIDS epidemic among Filipino youth.
while the data undresses the truth about the status of sexually transmitted diseases in the country, the cause of this ‘youth epidemic’ remains shielded from the eyes of Philippine society.
As a nation that breathes conservative beliefs and sturdy religious faith, the reality behind these numbers lies beneath these exact socially-constructed ideologies. With these conventional standards halting the advancement of sex education among Filipino youth, the blind tolerance and strong resistance against progressive measures, like making resources for safe sex accessible, defeat the very purpose of the ‘raising awareness’ narratives that many people preach. Because while the promotion of safe sex remains to be a frowned-upon method, the expanse of “awareness” of the youth about sexually transmitted diseases is too obstructed to unbend.
The hurdles of safe sex
While there are existing laws aimed at accelerating universal access to modern family planning methods in the country, the privilege of having access to basic contraceptive materials that promote the practice of safe sex remains elusive. Despite DOH’s efforts to encourage the practice of protected sex among youth like the proposed condom distribution in public high schools in 2017, there has always been an active opposition that impedes these progressive steps. Amid the upstanding calls to make sex education more accessible for adolescents, conservative groups reiterate that parental supervision remains to be the more decent approach, as some students are too young to understand, grasp, and digest the notions of sex. However, the statement in itself answers why there is a need for the promotion of safe sex among young individuals. Depriving youth of some resources does not make them less interested of knowing and engaging in sexual intercourse. In fact, it is the other way around: this constant deprivation leads them to be more explorative of their sexual choices, thus making them more vulnerable to the consequences of unprotected and uneducated sex. Along with instilling them the value of intimate relationships and the context of sex, providing them means and instruments on how to do it safely would be more practical — a step that would not get any easier when tight resistance from a culture-driven nation gets in the way.
Faith and reality
While the resistance transpires from the highly-embraced conservative system, another reality sets in: Philippines is dominated by highly religious beliefs, thus treating early sexual activities, and even sex education like a mortal sin. But rather than imposing a universal belief on sex based on the tenets of religion and faith, the focus must instead be redirected to the creation of a more progressive culture, and not on some standards that are far beyond our control. Perhaps, rather than condemnation, a thin line between religious belief and education should be well-established. After all, being exposed to sex education neither eradicates nor diminishes one’s faith: let it be clear that traditions, faith, and conservativity are choices that anyone is free to choose and commit themselves into.
Embracing these beliefs should not come at the expense of progressive changes, especially when it involves a decade-long of struggles, stereotypes, and uncalled discrimination among victims of a depriving system.
While these narratives provoke contrasting discourse from different points of view, one thing should be certain: the implementation of safe sex with proper dissemination of essential resources in order to save the youth from the hurdles of HIV/AIDS must not be in any way debatable.
‘To raise awareness’ is not only to expose them to deadly statistics and surface-level solutions: introducing them to concepts and practice of safe sex is a form of awareness on its own.
Because when the concept of awareness does not address the root causes of the problem, saving the youth and future generations from the horrors of HIV/AIDS will continue to be a lifelong battle.