BAGUIO CITY (Oct. 24) — Mr. G (short for Gigolo) lost his first love with whom he was “happily” married. He kept wondering what ailment afflicted his wife for more than two years, until he brought her to an “expensive hospital” where she was diagnosed to have developed a full-blown AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in 1994.
SAFE SEX VS. HIV/AIDS. Advocates say that the life-threatening virus may be avoided using rubbers, but also spreads through other means than sexual transmission.
The discovery ended a happy marriage because Ms. A (for Alpha, the first letter in the Greek alphabet) was too depressed she refused to eat (read: live).
The revelation that followed was quite difficult for Mr. G. He said it was quite painful for him to accept that it was he who was the source of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which caused his wife’s AIDS.
He then recalled having been rejected as a volunteer blood donor for one of his friends back in a southern Philippine province. After lining up for screening, his name was called out through the hospital’s public address system informing him that he could not donate his blood for an undisclosed reason.
He blamed hospital personnel for not telling him the truth. “I could have taken the necessary precaution so that I could have saved her from dying,” he told Baguio media in an interview.
The facts rolled down as if in a tele-novela as Mr. G bared all, invoking some provisions of a secrecy law, which he summarizes: No cameras, no mentioning of names, nor details of the origin of the subject that would identify him. We nodded in agreement as we listened intently, saved for a tape recorder for a colleague working with a local radio outfit.
He was a sex worker when he was 18, a “toro” he said squarely. He performed while video-cameras reeled for foreign audiences. He had two to three sex partners per night for three years in the early 80’s. He even went to service 60-year old widows in posh subdivisions.
“Para akong nakalutang noong una dahil sa kahihiyan,” (I was like floating because of shame) he told us. “Pero nakahiga lang kasi kami sa Luneta, pag umulan, nagpupulasan kami at kung saan-saan sumisilong,” (But we used to stay in the park not knowing where to take shelter when it rained) he narrated how a poor 18-year old from the south survived his first days in Metro-Manila.
He tried to look for a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant along Malate’s red district. Instead, he was offered a night job, which he said he could not stomach at first.
“Noong nahawakan ko ang pera, parang kumapal ang mukha ko,” (When I got hold of money, it seemed I was no longer ashamed) Mr. G recounted thinking of his 7 siblings back in the province for whose education he had to work. He earned an average of P800 a night then, including tips from generous sexual partners. Not long after, then Manila Mayor Vicente Lim ordered several joints closed and Mr. G found a good reason to quit and returned home to the province, where he thought, he started a new life and married his first girlfriend.
His second wife Ms. B used to live with AIDS for 22 years. She died a year after they were married. She had an American boyfriend who probably had AIDS. His third wife Ms. C, diagnosed in 2000, and like him, still living with AIDS, bore him a daughter, now four-month old.
Advocacy for awareness and positive action
Appearing well-groomed and physically fit, Mr. G addressed some 1,000 entertainers and night club workers during the first Baguio HIV/AIDS Conference at the Baguio Convention Center on October 23.
He said he has been going to major cities advocating positive action on HIV/AIDS. His advocacy started in 2003, more than 10 years after he learned he had contacted HIV/AIDS.
“Matagal ding hindi ako nagsasalita,” [it’s been a long time since I started talking (read coming out)] said Mr. G, now 40, said. He said he had to tell people that HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it had been in the 80’s, and that there is future for persons living with AIDS (PLWAs). By telling his story, he hopes to enlighten people on the realities of having to live with HIV/AIDS, at the same time clarifying that HIV is not easily transmitted from one person to another.
He said his family in the province now knows about his condition, yet they still eat with him as if he had not contacted the virus, which many people consider dreadful.
Early diagnosis and treatment with anti-retro viral (ARV) drug, healthy lifestyle, good nutrition, care and personal hygiene are always in his testimonies. He also warns against having multiple sex partners, engaging in unsafe sex and sharing intravenous needles.
He said, HIV/AIDS may be avoided, but once diagnosed with the virus, one’s positive attitude towards it could save lives.
Mr. G and his wife also have aspirations, among which is to see through their daughter’s growth.
The first HIV/AIDS conference to gather a multitude in one setting, the October 23 conference is worthy of emulation, according to Jesus Ramirez, Positive Action Foundation, Philippines (PAFPI) program director, who brought Mr. G before Baguio sex workers, bar operators and related audiences, including a sector now referred to as MSMs (men having sex with men), all considered high-risk sectors.
Statistics shown before the high-risk audience disclosed that in Baguio City alone, there have been 11 deaths due to HIV/AIDS since 1992 out of the 23 recorded cases. Worldwide, some 25 million deaths have been recorded since 1981. In 2005, there are 38.6 million PLWAs, of which 17.3 million are women, 2.3 million children and 2.8 million deaths, according to a World Health Organization report in May, 2006.
Diagnosis and treatment
Dr. Celia Flor Brillantes of the city’s Social Hygiene Clinic disclosed that it is very hard to detect a person living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH/PLWAs).
“Within five to 15 years, the person may show no sign of the virus, that it is very hard to identify PLWH/PLWA unless he or she submits for check up. Once diagnosed, many do not come back for treatment,” Brillantes reveals.
The drug, administered to control HIV now costs around P2,000 to P3,500 for a month’s supply, much lesser than the P30,000 to P50,000 it used to cost before, according to Brillantes. She encourages PLWH/PLWAs to avail of the government-assisted medication given by six treatment hubs across the country, one of which is in San Fernando, La Union.
Most PLWAs seemed unable to sustain the medication. Mr. G admits that he also misses some of his medicines. The free drug is taken in combination of another drug which costs him some P5,000 monthly. He said he gets support from various audiences such as the seafarers who usually give him money to buy medicines with.
Mr. G knows a 44-year-old PLWA who has not been on ARV for the last 22 years but is still alive. A cyclist himself, Mr. G attributes life with HIV/AIDS to a healthy lifestyle and a happy disposition.
Meanwhile, Dr. Charles Cheng, medical director of the Filipino-Chinese General Hospital in Baguio City, professes having treated some PLWH/PLWAs since the early 90’s. He claims, one of his patients is still alive with two to three years of acupuncture and moxibustion treatment.
He agrees with Brillantes that some PLWAs do not return for further treatment. # Lyn V. Ramo for NORDIS