The Department of Health (DOH) just recently announced that they are working out a way to make HIV testing compulsory. It has come to this. And I’m unsure about how to feel about it.
Read the article here: Coming Soon: Compulsory HIV-AIDS tests?
How do I feel about this? I don’t know. In March of 2014, the DOH announced that there are 498 newly diagnosed cases of HIV. That’s way higher than anything we’ve seen and it’s getting worse. The numbers have been steadily increasing in the past five years and despite all the warnings and HIV awareness campaigns, people are still getting infected. What is a government to do?
Naturally, I have nothing to fear as I am already public about my HIV status. Everyone knows about my HIV status and the fact that I’m gay, so this doesn’t scare me at all. Worse, I have never felt stigma or discrimination. So, it’s hard for me to say that it’s a bad thing because I don’t know what it’s like to be at the receiving end of the stigma or discrimination.
But recently, I just spoke with someone through Facebook and he told me how he was being discriminated on and someone is spreading the news in his hometown in the province. We have a law against revealing another person’s HIV status but he is scared of making use of this law because it might make it public and put him on the spotlight. As this law has never been used before, no one knows of how well it is in protecting people’s identity.
Discrimination and stigma is an awful thing and no one should have to go through it but people not being careful and unknowingly spreading the virus is just as bad. Really. I’ve been doing HIV talks for the past five years and there are people who have been doing it more frequently than I have and things aren’t getting any better. The information on how to prevent HIV isn’t getting around. People haven’t changed their ways and every month, the numbers are increasing.
The problem with this is that it is going to be a heavy strain on our resources — both personal and as a government — if we have to keep paying for HIV medicine and treatment and support.
At some point, if we keep waiting for people to take it upon themselves to protect themselves and be smart and be safe, we’ll be facing overwhelming numbers of HIV positive individuals and we won’t be able to help everyone. If they cannot get them to take the test regularly and to curb their risky behaviour, are we not obligated to formulate the means with which to protect themselves and others?
They say it is a human rights violation. They say that mandatory testing forces people to give up their right to privacy and to be treated like a normal human, free from stigma and discrimination. It brings in all of these issues and I can see it. I have not witnessed the horrors but I have heard first-hand accounts of how devastating the effects of stigma and discrimination can be.
But, there are thousands of people who have HIV right now and don’t know it and they are potentially risking other people’s lives by not being safe and smart about their lifestyle and behaviours. Are we going to risk the lives of people who are negative for the sake of people who cannot take the precautions to be safe and to keep others safe?
That’s my dilemma. I understand the horrors of discrimination and stigma. But I also am one of those people who got infected because one of my sexual partners did not know he was HIV positive. It is as much my fault as it is that person’s. I’m not throwing the blame solely on him and I’m not absolving myself of the stupidity of my actions. But at this critical junction in the fight for an HIV free Philippines, how much more drastic must the situation get before we start to change and to start taking action.
HIV is preventable. We don’t have to get it if we are safe and smart about our choices. But after five years of talking and pleading for people to change, people still haven’t made the changes and the government is retaliating by forcing people to be smart and responsible.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? I don’t know. I don’t know what to make of it. Again, my opinion doesn’t count as I am not at all affected by any of this. I already know my HIV status and I’m public with my status.
It’s a lot to think about.