Five Dangerous HIV/AIDS Myths That Many Filipinos Still Believe

According to the November 2015 report of the Philippine Department of Health (DOH), there are now close to 40,000 people in the country who are considered HIV positive. More than three-fourths of these cases have been due to male homosexual contact, while a little bit more than 12,000 of the total are now on treatment.

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The Philippines is now one of seven countries where HIV/AIDS cases are actually rising, going against the global trend of cases falling. This may be attributed to two things: first, an aggressive awareness campaign by the DOH in recent years for people to get tested, thereby making them aware of their status (which by the way is a good thing); second, continuing myths about the transmission of the virus itself (which would be tackled here).

For some reason, there is a lingering undercurrent in Filipino culture against people who have any sort of sickness; people who are sick (or even thought of as “sick”) are seen as “sinful,” and victim blaming often ensues. “You have the flu? It’s your fault, you exposed yourself to people who have it.” “Got diagnosed with dengue? It’s your fault, you didn’t do prevention measures.” HIV/AIDS, of course, is the ultimate viral boogeyman that Filipinos use to blame those who have it, simply because its method of transmission is seen as exactly what religious moralists in the country see as “sinful.” Coupled with a poor implementation of government health programs, it seems that the HIV infection rates for Filipinos would not decrease anytime soon.

MYTH 1: ONLY PROSTITUTES AND GAY PEOPLE GET GET AIDS, AND THEY DESERVE TO DIE.

The Facts: Though as stated most HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines are due to male homosexual contact, let’s not forget that there still are people in the country who get the virus from other means. In fact, Cebu currently has the highest infection rates in the country and this is due to hypodermic needle sharing (not sex). Additionally, HIV can be transmitted from mother to child through breastmilk or through contact with blood during birth. Filipinos who still think that HIV/AIDS is a “gay disease” should ask themselves: are infected children “sinful?” Are rape victims “sinful” as well, through no fault of their own?

Stigmatizing gay men and sex workers just because they have the highest rates of infection in the country contributes to ignorance, and does nothing to stem the epidemic.

MYTH 2: YOU CAN GET AIDS FROM (INSERT NOUN HERE).

The Facts: In the Philippines, ask a random person on the street where he/she thinks HIV comes from, and they’ll probably reply with one or more of the following things: gay sex, dirty public toilets, dirty air, kissing, drugs, human urine, shaking hands with HIV+ people, animal feces, baby parts – pretty much anything, anyone and anywhere that Filipinos may think as “dirty.”

Just so everybody knows:

  • You CANNOT “get” AIDS. AIDS is the consequence of an untreated HIV infection.
  • You CANNOT get HIV from touching, hugging or kissing an infected person. Saliva is an extremely poor transmitter of the virus.
  • You CANNOT get HIV from using public toilets. Certain body fluids such as sweat, urine, feces, nasal mucus and tears are also poor transmitters of the virus. Blood, breastmilk and sexual fluids, however, can harbor HIV.
  • You should NOT believe the urban legend about random needles stuck to public seats that have the virus in them.

MYTH 3: I FEEL HEALTHY, THEREFORE I DON’T HAVE AIDS.

The Facts: HIV infection is often asymptomatic, meaning that in most cases you might not even know if you have it or not. A relatively healthy person can therefore carry the virus for years before the real symptoms of AIDS appear. What’s dangerous here is that if a person doesn’t know if he or she has the virus, he or she might unknowingly transmit it to someone else through unprotected sex or breastfeeding. So if you think that you feel great and you’ve had a history of unprotected sex, you need to get tested. In the Philippines, HIV counseling and testing is free and confidential in various health centers around the country. It pays in the future to know what your status is, so you’d know what to do next.

Additionally, since HIV is asymptomatic as stated, you can never really know who has HIV or not just by looking at a person. People who accuse others of “having AIDS” just because they’re “gay” or they “look thin” or “have a lingering cough” is stupid, and only contributes to stigma and the spreading of false information. Besides, people who have HIV enjoy the privilege of keeping their status secret; Philippine laws protect any patient with any illness from disclosing whatever conditions they have for their individual safety and for the protection of their personal liberties.

MYTH 4: I HAVE HIV/AIDS, THERE IS NO CURE FOR IT, THEREFORE I WILL DIE EARLY.

The Facts: If you don’t get treated, then you will definitely die – just like any other viral infection that goes untreated such as tuberculosis (which, by the way, has a higher death rate in the Philippines than AIDS), dengue or certain flu strains. This all goes back to the testing process: the sooner that doctors find out that you’re infected, the sooner you can get treatments.

Although yes as of this writing there still is no cure for HIV, proper adherence to treatment procedures can “starve” the virus: most anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs that HIV+ people take these days are called “inhibitors,” meaning they stop the ability of the virus to multiply in the body (and eventually push their numbers down to undetectable levels).

Scientific breakthroughs have allowed for the evolution of medicines that in effect prolong the lives of people living with HIV to normal lifespans, meaning that if an HIV+ person follows his or her doctor, he or she can live a long and healthy life just like anybody else; in fact, there are statistics that show that a Filipino is more likely to die from fifty other causes apart from HIV/AIDS (or any other sexually transmitted diseases). Many of these fifty causes are cancers (which often appear randomly), or are due to poor health habits among Filipinos.

Case in point of HIV+ people with long life spans: Magic Johnson, a straight former NBA athlete, has had the virus for more than two decades now, and he credits his long lifespan due to proper adherence to HIV drugs.

In the Philippines, PhilHealth’s universal healthcare program (perhaps the only one good thing that BS Aquino did during his student council presidency) currently covers HIV treatment through the OTAP program. For a minimum of PhP200.00 a month, a person confirmed to be infected with HIV can avail of ARV drugs, tests and other services. An HIV+ Filipino does not need to die due to ignorance and/or neglect.

MYTH 5: GET REAL, MIDWAYHAVEN. HIV/AIDS DOESN’T EXIST!

The Facts: Yes, I was told this by someone I know in person. To my face. The fact that there are people out there who still think that HIV is the result of some conspiracy makes me want to punch those same people. AIDS denialism is the worst myth that a Filipino can believe in, because it only proves the height of ignorance he or she may harbor. Conspiracy theories about the non-existence of AIDS (or the belief that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS) are difficult to unlearn, and in the long run only worsens the pandemic.

HIV/AIDS EXISTS, AND IT STILL KILLS PEOPLE. That’s a scientific fact.

Nobody wants to get infected HIV, so it’s still best to always practice safe sex. Use condoms and lubricants. If you really have the urge to do it with another person but are afraid to get a bug, then use the internet to find ways to be creative with non-penetrative sex play.

I have a three-point plan for HIV awareness:

If you’re HIV NEGATIVE, get informed.

If you’re HIV UNSURE, get tested.

If you’re HIV POSITIVE, get treated.

Let’s face it: science shows that telling people to “keep it in your pants” is actually an ineffective way to halt HIV infections. Further stigmatizing those segments of society perceived as “immoral” only adds to the increasing numbers of the infected. The only way to (at the very least) lower the rates of infection is through an honest, rigorous and judgment-free proliferation of information. If other, more liberal/progressive countries can bring down their HIV infection rates through proper information dissemination and proper private/government support, the Philippines can do it too if Filipinos can just stop perpetuating myths.

[Photo courtesy of UNDP Philippines for undp.org.]

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Post Author: MidwayHaven

But enough about me.

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22 Comments on "Five Dangerous HIV/AIDS Myths That Many Filipinos Still Believe"

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Robert Haighton
Member

Congrats!!!
Finally, one of the best elaborate articles on this topic!

Now, what to do when one knows he/she has hiv/aids and still want to enter a (new) relationship? (but is too afraid to tell it to his/her partner)

Grimwald
Member

Great follow up MidwayHaven! See, THIS is what we need, not more delusional romantic bullshit! When will typical Pinoys EVER learn!

Robert Haighton
Member

@Midway,
maybe you can write a similar elaborate piece about sex. So that the readers here cant say anymore “balaha na” and cant say “I didnt know”. Maybe your piece about that topic can contribute to increase the PH population less quick or maybe even decrease.

It seems that there are still zillions of PH people who still think that kids are a gift of god. While that is of course BS.

Grimwald
Member

Well… They CAN be but…

The way our culture is, they are anything BUT…

Robert Haighton
Member

So you want to keep them ignorant and let them still believe that god creates kids while science and biology say differently?
I thought that part of GRP’s goal was and is to lift the dysfunctionality of the Philippines.

Grimwald
Member

No, no… I mean kids CAN be a gift of God or a boon to a country. However, that only works if they can be molded into productive and forward-thinking citizens.

You know as well as I do that the way our culture seems to work… 🙁

Robert Haighton
Member

“I mean kids CAN be a gift of God”
Not in a biblical nor religious sense.

Grimwald
Member

Oh, okay. Thanks for clarifying.

MidwayHaven`
Guest
I’m no sexpert, though. 😛 One of the main reasons I wrote the above essay is because I have frequent regular contact with health workers and HIV+ people. A lot of them are women who got the virus from getting raped; some of them got it through their husbands, and they haven’t had sex before marriage (thus dispelling the myth that abstinence can control the spread of HIV). The self-righteous Filipino often resorts to victim blaming when confronted with a sick person. I know first hand that a lot of people living with HIV are just ordinary people, many of… Read more »
Robert Haighton
Member
I wont call myself an sexpert either but I do know a lot about the biological side of what happens in and with our (female and male) bodies when we have sex or when we procreate. This elaborate article of yours is quite accurate and therefore unique here in GRP when writing about health issues. I personally think one of the reasons why the Philippines is about to “explde” is becaue of the exponentiouly increasing population. I think that GRP stands for transparency and truethful information. Now, I also know that the GRP writers themselves decide what they will write… Read more »
Grimwald
Member

Well maybe not a “sexpert” but I think you’re plenty Sexy though Midway Haven…

MidwayHaven
Guest

Um, thanks! I guess. 🙂

Robert Haighton
Member
@Midway, isnt it about time to kill the illusion that god creates human beings? As I think (based on a few assumptions) you are a Filipina, so you are the right person (amongst your other female GRP authors) to disclose and inform your public about the real story about the egg cell (and sperm cell). Or is it still a taboo in your country to kill the god myth? Of course I can do it for you. But will anybody believe a guy talking about girl’s stuff? I dont think so. But to get your country out of that sick… Read more »
Amir Al Bahr
Guest

“Philippine laws protect any patient with any illness from disclosing whatever conditions they have.”

But Philippine society does not, if you know what I mean.

MidwayHaven
Guest

That’s the “illness stigma” of victim blaming that many Filipinos possess. Culturally (as I mentioned in the article), a lot of Filipinos are predisposed to think that people with any sort of disability or sickness are “sinful” or “immoral” because they were “irresponsible” in preventing it.

These same Filipinos want nothing to do whatsoever with sick/disabled people, so they often stay away from the latter or often want to displace them. This is backwards thinking and ignorance found in many Filipinos.

Robert Haighton
Member
@Midway, I am about to disclose something that is very personal (but not private). It is also something, I dont understand. After my relationship with a pinay woman ended, I chatted with other pinay women. Then after so many months, she said “I love you” to me. Mind you, I never visited that woman. So we also talked about sex (although I prefer to use the term “making love”). And without any exception, she didnt want me to use a condom. She never even raised the question about my current health issues (am I clean of any disease; what about… Read more »
MidwayHaven
Guest

Maybe it’s just me, but I guess it’s part of the Filipino culture to be quiet when it comes to health issues; I suppose when one discusses something unsavory they might think they’d be rejected for saying it.

It’s like preemptive censorship, but again that’s just me.

gafused
Guest

Her not wanting you to use condoms? That sounded more like an attempt for a shotgun wedding. “Manufacture baby in belly, force a marriage quickly”; health issues be damned.

Robert Haighton
Member
@gafused, I am sorry to say but that will never happen. Why? – I know when a woman will get pregnant. So in that time frame, I wont have unsafe seks with her. – Secondly, in my country we dont have that culture (making you pregnant and then need to marry her). Its NOT me who makes you pregnant. It are 2 people who are doing that. She is equally “guilty” as me. – Thirdly, in my country we have legal abortion. This is also something you have to get rid of (the idea that a man shoots a woman… Read more »
d_forsaken
Guest

May we each find in ourselves the courage we forgot we have, to see the beauty we forgot is inside us, while battling the demons we forgot we can slay, on a battlefield we forgot we can win.

Rontomtom
Guest

👏👏👏

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