PHILIPPINES: AIDS activists dare to go bare
Photo: Mitch Mauricio/IRIN
Alcs Porras, a fashion designer who lost three friends to AIDS-related illnesses in the 1980s
Manila, 1 December 2009 (PlusNews) - On 1 December, World AIDS Day, activists in the Philippines will be wearing nothing but the red AIDS ribbon in a campaign to raise awareness about the growing threat of HIV.
Some of the activists are HIV-positive, but they all hope the daring photographs will serve as a wake-up call while HIV prevalence in their country is still below one percent. UNAIDS estimated that 8,300 people were living with the virus in 2008, but the population is almost 90 million.
The "Dare to Bare Campaign" will be featured in a leading national daily newspaper and several online magazines until 5 December 2009. Every picture is accompanied by a personal story, because either that individual or someone they care about is living with the virus.
Shame and silence
Carlos Celdran, a performing artist and one of the "models" in the campaign, told IRIN/PlusNews that his youth was marked by living a carefree life in New York. "We may have been a bit promiscuous back then, but we were careful and always used condoms. Now, there is a whole new generation of young people who no longer see HIV/AIDS as a death sentence, and are more reckless."
According to the National AIDS Registry of the Department of Health, HIV cases among young people have been increasing at an unprecedented rate: newly reported cases in the 15-24 age group tripled from 41 in 2007 to 110 in 2008.
Health experts in the Philippines have warned that the low level of testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, combined with limited access to accurate information, could be masking higher HIV figures.
Even worse, the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, which would standardize access to sexual health services and information, has been languishing in legislative debate for 20 years.
About 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, giving the Church a key role in shaping public opinion and influencing government policy. It has sought to block passage of the Bill, saying the legislation would promote abortion and promiscuity. The Church is particularly opposed to a provision promoting condom use and other family-planning methods, describing condoms as "abortifacients".
Condoms have only recently become available in convenience stores, groceries and filling stations. Previously, people would have to buy condoms abroad - an option not readily available because most of the population live below the poverty line.
Photo: Mitch Mauricio/IRIN
|Activist Veronica took part in the campaign to prove that HIV/AIDS is not a "gay" disease
Condoms may be easier to get but buying them is still stigmatized. "The man in front of me bought five packs of condoms and when he left, the cashier openly made vulgar comments about the man being promiscuous and sex-crazed," said Rain Naldoza, 22, who appears in the campaign.
"The benefits of using condoms are completely overlooked. The worst thing is, it sent the wrong message to others who heard the comments that buying condoms is a bad thing."
Alcs Porras, a fashion designer who lost three friends to AIDS-related illnesses in the 1980s, commented: "There is shame and silence." He has his own unique way of promoting safer sex among the youth.
"Many of my young friends who are starting to experiment [sexually] ask me for advice because they don't know who else to ask. Many are too embarrassed to buy condoms." He prepares "care packages" of condoms, lubricants and other safer sex devices and hands them out.
The organizers of the "Dare to Bare Campaign", with the support of other groups working in sexual health, hope their brave effort will move others to rally for their right to protect themselves and stay free from HIV/AIDS.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNAIDS have distributed information brochures and HIV/AIDS pins, and condom manufacturer DKT Philippines gave condoms to all participants at the ceremony launching the campaign.
Victoria Court, a chain of high-end short-stay motels, hosted the photo shoot and now provides free condoms in their rooms, discreetly tucked between the towels and toiletries.
"Our clients go to us to get intimate with their partners," said Ian King, Managing Director of Victoria Court. "We need to be responsible about this aspect of our business. It is everyone's responsibility to be aware and be informed."
Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]