Ilocos Sur remembers AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day

VIGAN CITY — The Provincial Health Office (PHO) wants HIV patients to be protected from AIDS. And this is one of its messages in its events this month to unite with the world in remembering AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day on May 19.

This international event is held yearly on the third Sunday of May. Coordinated by the Global Network of People Living with HIV, it is one of the oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness in the world. It started in 1983 and is led by the union of some 1,200 community groups in 115 countries, according to the website candlelightmemorial.org. “With 33 million people with HIV around the world today, this event serves as a valuable intervention for global solidarity, breaking down barriers of stigma and discrimination and giving hope to new generations.”

From May 21 to 24 the PHO HIV-Aids program coordinators Benjamin Aguimbag, Josef Dominik L. Bello and Elizabeth Retuta lead the PHO team in going to four private hospitals in Candon City to give lectures on the deadly disease and conduct free screening.

“People need to know if they are HIV positive so they can be helped not to develop AIDS,” said Retuta during the Dap-ayan Ilocos Sur media forum conducted by the Philippine Information Agency Ilocos Sur on May 16 at the Capitol in this city.

“HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. There is no treatment for HIV, but with proper medical care, it can be controlled,” she added.

AIDS, on the other hand, is a set of syndromes, not the virus, caused by HIV. With AIDS a person’s immune system is too weak to fight off infection so illnesses will develop. In this last stage of HIV, the infection is very advanced, that if left untreated, is fatal.

“In 2017 there were 45 new HIV cases in the province, 53 in 2018 where 50 are male, and three are female. As of February 2019, there are 12 new cases. From 1984 to February 2019 there are 227 cases. Twenty-two died already,” she said.

“The lectures help in making people understand what HIV and AIDS are. Once they understand them, they will help spread messages against discrimination and the HIV-AIDS stigma that are the major issues of the disease,” Retuta said. “The screening helps people discover their health status, whether they are positive of the disease or not. This is the first positive step towards getting the best help possible for people who are HIV positive, and those with sexually transmitted diseases (STD),” she added.

“Since there is no symptom of HIV, screening is the only way to help people know if they are infected by the disease,” said Bello.

Meanwhile, with 18 HIV cases, Tagudin town, through the Municipal Government of Tagudin led by Mayor Jun Verzosa, created awareness on HIV-Aids to educate residents on this deadly disease which has no treatment.

On May 17, to remember International Aids Candlelight Memorial Day, the LGU led a set of activities that included HIV-Aids fun walk and zumba. This was joined by LGBTQ Tagudin Chapter, Barangay Health Workers, Municipal Health Office, Sangguniang Kabataan Federation, Philippine National Police (PNP) Tagudin Police Station, Regional Mobile Force Battalion (RMFB-1) of the PNP, and the Department of Health Region 1.

The event aimed to promote involvement of the whole community to fight the disease, increase resources to help patients, widen the information education campaign, reduce stigma of patients, and ensure access of patients to free screening and medical help.