Ring The Bells on World AIDS Day

Filipinos are counting the days before the holidays while. UP students are counting the days till the end of the semester. December is a month of much anticipation that keeps us still and quiet by the edge of our seats till the bells signal the good things.

But today, I hope we do not sit still and quiet on World AIDS Day rather we ring the bells on World Aids Day.

Silence is the last thing we need today, especially in our country. The World Health Organization (WHO) says HIV threatens to spread any minute outside the pool of men having sex with men, if it hasn’t already. A decade ago, only two cases of HIV infection were reported every day; three years ago, 22 new cases; but today, 32 people are diagnosed with HIV infection every single day.

We should be raising the distress signal, working overtime to catch up with the rate at which the HIV epidemic spreads locally.

Ernest Hemingway quoted John Donne’s Meditation XVII in explaining the universality of war and how it affects everyone: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

We are at war–not against our own people, but against the spread of this virus threatening our lives. To fight for HIV-positive individuals means a fight for our lives and for humanity.

But it seems as if the response to the epidemic is not a call to arms against the disease but silence across the country. First, government officials–responsible for our nation–are silent. Their silence trickles down to how young voices perceive victims of the epidemic–something short of the fearsome undead.

In a world where the number of HIV cases recorded per day declines, the Philippines goes against the current. As of October 2018, in an article by Rappler on the state of HIV in the country, Dr. Gundo Weiler, WHO representative to the Philippines, says the Philippines strikes a 140% increase in cases compared to the global average which has dropped down to 20%.

This is largely due to the age-old problem: awareness still remains at a minimum. And the government seems fond of glossing over this major health threat in favor of Chinese loans and the removal of Filipino as a required subject in college, all which only sets us further backward.

As if by containing the spread of information, the spread of infection can be suppressed as well. Our country, it seems, is run by scared little children with hands clapped over their ears, chanting “It’s not real, it’s not real.” Government officials are not children–it’s time they uncover their ears and start listening before HIV-AIDS wipes the children of this nation.

The young voices of our country who usually go against the pernicious, juvenile behavior of the government seems to have taken a similar course of action.

In UPLB, despite activities conducted about HIV testing organized by the administration, campaigns on safe sex and the truth about HIV transmission and AIDS infection are not vocalized enough. Aside from the free testing activity last month, nothing else can be gleaned within campus about the issue. This begs the question: where are the advocates of student welfare?

Ignoring HIV-AIDS issues is a nightmare but it is no bogeyman we can keep hidden in a closet and pretend doesn’t exist.

The silence of the government, the UPLB admin, and the university’s student leaders are symptomatic of the stigma about HIV-AIDS still rampant in our society. It further antagonizes, demonizes those infected by the virus–a group which, as established, is composed of men having sex with men. Mostly, members of the LGBTQ community barely fighting for their identities as humans without the dehumanizing effect of the HIV stigma.

Thus, the epidemic of silence spreads.

“Why do the holidays feel colder and quieter each passing year despite the warm weather?” a friend asked as we recount Christmas memories from childhood. It made me realize how we gradually grow farther from each other, like tectonic plates.

Is this why the silence grows more palpable each day, why it’s harder to hear the cries our own? Or are we keeping quiet in passive anticipation of the bell signaling good things?

Meditation XVII further waxes poetic: “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Except, this is not a death toll, but a wake-up call. What we must do is grab the bell ourselves and ring the nation awake to the fact that this is a matter we should be discussing in the open. We must learn more about this Big Bad we’re up against and how best to defeat it.

HIV-AIDS doesn’t just affect its victims but everyone of us as a community, as a nation, as humans. No matter how far our tectonic plates drift apart, we remain part of the same continent, of mankind. So let’s ring the bells for mankind. [P]

Words by Gershom Mabaquiao

UPLB Perspective is the official student publication of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, established in 1973. It is the first campus publication established under Martial Law in the Philippines.

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