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Feature: Man diagnosed with HIV fights for rights, awareness

By Keren Bernadas

LEGAZPI CITY --- Nervous and shaking, uncertain if the path he chose would lead to freedom, Chad, as his friends used to call him, proceeded nonetheless. In front of several doctors, midwives, and nurses, he delivered a speech – one like no other, a revelation that broke the barrier of fear.

It happened in 2018 at the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) counselling and testing training.

Chad was a community organizer and college instructor at that time when he finally decided to pull that thorn off his chest. He revealed that he was diagnosed with HIV since 2015.

Determined to live, he started his medication and made efforts to inspire others. For Chad, the strength to surpass each challenging day sprang from his family, friends, and life partner.

“I blocked some memories in those years where I hid from stigma, people’s judgements, and discrimination. There were too many tears, but what I did remember were the days that followed… kung saan nabuo ang isang organisasyon at ang adbokasiya na malapit sa aking puso…”

In the same year, the GentleMen Bicol for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Inc. was finally formed. The organization aims to educate and provide the right information to the public on HIV and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and offer other support. These include treatment, counselling, testing, and giving aid to people who are living with HIV (PLHIV).

Presently, Chad serves as the president of GentleMen Bicol. Through the years, this non-government organization has become one of the main advocate groups in the region, and a multi-sectoral ally in conducting free screenings, seminars, trainings, and symposiums to spread awareness on these causes.

They have recently opened a halfway home facility and accommodation for PLHIV for free. It can occupy at least five to ten people endorsed by their rural health units.

On Friday, May 17, at the memorial commemoration of lives lost to HIV/AIDS here, Chad stood in front of over a hundred advocates, health organizations, youth, government sector, and people from all walks of life, to tell the same story.

This time, he shed a few tears – but not of sorrow. They were tears full of hope and life.

“Siyam na taon na ang nakalipas nang binago ng isang kumonoy na dumadaloy sa aking dugo, ang aking buhay. Siyam na taon na nagtatago. Siyam na taon nakikibaka. Siyam na taong patuloy na nabubuhay sa mundong puno ng stigma at diskriminasyon. (It’s been nine years since I surpassed the feeling of being in a quicksand, draining my lifeblood. Nine years of struggle. Nine years of living in a world where stigma and discrimination persists).”

Chad, decisively ended these nine years by fighting for people with HIV, promoting thier rights and awareness as he led the lighting of the candles of those who lost their lives from these diseases. This year forward, he decided to fight over the lives of those who never had the chance to speak up and share their pain, to those who never sympathized and wished to be banished because of the virus they carried – to those who carried the red ribbon of the memorial.

“Ngunit handa na ako! Hindi ako magpapatinag dahil alam ko may kakampi ako. Kakampi ko ang aking pamilya, mga kaibigan at higit sa lahat kakampi ko ang RA 11166 (Now I am ready! I will not waver. I know I have an ally. I have my family, my friends and most of all, the law - RA 11166).”

Signed in 2018, Republic Act 11166 strengthens the nation’s comprehensive policy on HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment care, and support.

Living undetectable

Chad considered taking medicines regularly for a year has helped him become undetectable. Being so is equivalent to having an untransmittable virus, he said.

“My HIV viral load was low. To this day, my CD4 count is still high which makes me undetectable. Ganito kabisa ang Anti-Retroviral Treatment, ang isang person living HIV ay pwedeng maging undetectable.”

For the past nine years, his life partner has remained negative for HIV.

Chad still goes for therapy every three months, and that’s the only thing new to him, nowadays. He can still look straight into the eyes of the people who love him just the same.

“Honestly, There is no level at which I can describe the feelings of elation of disclosing my status as an HIV-positive individual. Ang sarap sa pakiramdam.”

Chad continues to echo the voices of souls who remained faceless in the fight against HIV/AIDS discrimination. He implored the public to end the stigma, and altogether help this advocacy to come across the hearts and minds of different sectors.

Panahon na para makamit ang kalayaan ng mga HIV positive at ang katotohanang maari pa rin silang mabuhay nang normal, masaya, malusog at matupad ang mga pangarap na minimithi. Panahon na para palayain sila mula sa stigma at diskirimansyon, at ipakita na ang isang taong may HIV ay hindi kabawasan sa kaniyang pagkatao.”

As beautiful stories of individuals unfold, Chad hopes that his story has also impacted and inspires the lives of others - regardless of age, education and background. Believing that every human being has his own integrity, Chad said PLHIV must also be treated with just and equal human rights and dignity.

“Hindi kami dapat kaawaan. Kami man ay taong may HIV ngunit may karapatan at dignidad na kailangang panindigan at kilalanin, lalong lalong hindi kami ang HIV.” (PIA5/KBernadas)

HOPE AND LIFE Chad Hayag together with advocates and representatives from various sectors and organizations, light a candle to commemorate the lives lost to HIV and AIDS. Photo taken by Raiza Lucido of PIA Albay


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