EpiC launches ‘Free to Be U’ campaign to fight HIV stigma in Philippines

·Contributor
·3 min read
Campaign supporters place 1,638 candles around a large red ribbon representing the number of dead victims claimed by HIV/AIDS in the Philippines since 1984 as part of their commemoration of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day in Quezon City, Philippines May 14, 2016. EpiC's
Campaign supporters place 1,638 candles around a large red ribbon representing the number of dead victims claimed by HIV/AIDS in the Philippines since 1984 as part of their commemoration of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day in Quezon City, Philippines May 14, 2016. EpiC's "Free to Be U" initiative focuses on increasing public awareness and knowledge on support services for people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV). REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

The Meeting Targets and Maintaining HIV Epidemic Control (EpiC) Project announced the launch of the Free to Be U Campaign on Monday (Feb 14), their latest opus to combat stigma surrounding the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

This initiative focuses on increasing public awareness and knowledge on support services for people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) and those who may be vulnerable to the disease. The Free to Be U campaign will also collaborate with groups and individuals involved in HIV-related matters “to promote testing and treatment and de-stigmatize HIV and PLHIV.”

EpiC explained that the campaign “seeks to empower people living with and vulnerable to HIV to break free from fear, labels, and shame — and be free to live, love, and pursue their goals.” Additionally, Free to be U aims to promote the idea of “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable,” which refers to the idea that if HIV cannot be detected in a person after testing, the virus cannot be sexually transmitted.

“We aim for the vulnerable populations and the people living with [the] HIV community to understand that there are existing services that can allow them to be free to be themselves, hence, Free to Be U,” EpiC Philippines Project Director Teresita Marie Bagasao said during her presentation.

The campaign is also meant to contribute to the goal of having 95% of the PLHIV population know their HIV status and be in treatment by 2030. About 95% of PLHIV in treatment are targeted to have “suppressed viral loads” by that time.

Michelle Lang-Alli, Office of Health Director for United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Philippines, explained that the timing of the campaign is in-line with the evolving HIV situation in the Philippines. Despite having only eight years to go before 2030, Lang-Alli said that new scientific breakthroughs and more sector initiatives led to a focal shift towards treatment.

Making milestones

Bagasao then listed EpiC’s different milestones, including the creation of QuickRes.org. This free online booking platform helps users connect with various HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) services in their locality. The platform also provides an online quiz that assesses a user’s HIV testing and treatment history, while offering the options to chat with an expert virtually or request for a callback from counselors.

When asked about offline initiatives, one EpiC representative said that they partnered with “community-based organizations” (composed of PLHIV and experts in the matter) in providing Community-based HIV Screening (CBS) as part of the campaign. He added that the plan involves appealing to target clients through “online outreach.”

In a separate statement, Bagasao encourages PLHIV to help bring an end to the HIV pandemic.

“These exciting new developments – the increased access to HIV treatment and interventions, as well as various community efforts to share more PLHIV stories of hope and positivity with a general audience – can help in dispelling stigma and take us closer to the goal of ending HIV by 2030. These services are here so that you can be free to be you,” Bagasao concluded.

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes-in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.

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