30 Apr 2018

Have I Done Enough?

Community Reflections on the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial 2018

In 2011 I started confronting seven letters that would totally change my life forever: ‘HIV’ and ‘AIDS’.  I was a college professor back then when I found out that one of our colleagues, a young gay man, was sick in the hospital ICU with TB meningitis. One of his closest friends shared the news with me that our colleague was living with HIV and that his TB meningitis diagnosis was an AIDS-related complication. I was speechless and motionless. His friend encouraged me and another colleague to get tested as well, as the rate of HIV was escalating within the metro Manila area.

Awareness

Flashback of my sexcapades came right into my face. Fear embraced my whole being. What if I have HIV too? What if I’m next? I finally got the courage to go with my best friend and get tested. When I received the negative test results I felt as if the wooden floors of the Manila Social Hygiene clinic were nearly collapsing as we jumped for joy and relief.

That was first encounter with HIV. Following that event, I promised myself to get tested regularly and to always practice safe sex. I even started encouraging my friends to get tested as well.

Preparing for our Future

My second encounter with HIV involved another colleague of mine who was being confined in the Infectious Disease ICU of San Lazaro Hospital because of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP). Thankfully, he survived, but shortly thereafter I was confronted with my 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th friend diagnosed with HIV or dying from AIDS related complications. I’ve since stopped counting. I began feeling the overwhelming intensity and scope of the AIDS crisis in the Philippines and I started thinking to myself, “What have I been doing?!?? My friends are dying! Have I done enough?!’’

I started getting more engaged in advocacy to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS with other MSMs or LGBTQ community members. I gave talks, distributed condoms, encouraged people to get tested and integrated my advocacy into my work. I began to see myself as a change agent, a counsellor, a life coach, and a friend to those who faced HIV related stigma and discrimination.

Every year, I look forward to welcoming the third Sunday of May because of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. To me, the Memorial is a time to celebrate the millions of lives lost to AIDS-related complications, especially the seven friends whom I have already lost to this battle. It is also a time to increase awareness on a global scale about the impact of this pandemic; a time to give hope to the millions of warriors continuing to fight against HIV and AIDS; and a time for us, to reinvigorate our commitment to network, educate, support and mentor everyone that is interested in this movement.

Here in the Philippines, in the small province of Ilocos Norte, at the heart of the City of Laoag, lies Karmelli Clinic and Hospital where I work as the Chief Nursing Officer and the Chief HIV change Agent. On May 20, 2018, we hope to commemorate this day with the transgender community, including the Queens of Miss IlocosloVakla 2018 (an annual Gay-TG pageant here in our province) and the Sunflower Festival Queens of 2018 (oldest LGBT Organization in Asia), and to march on the streets of Laoag City, with lighted lanterns and banners to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. After the march we also plan on lighting our red candles and forming a big red ribbon signifying our commitment to advocacy, and most importantly, remembering our fallen warriors, in front of the Ilocos Norte Capitol (the Office of the Governor).

It is about time that we each figure out ways that we can do more. We may not all be infected, but we are all affected by HIV and AIDS. As we reflect on our past – as we remember the brave and beloved souls that we have lost, we must also prepare for our future – a future where we continue our fight until this epidemic is over.

Jurgen Rushell G. Rapacon, is the chief nursing officer of the Karmelli Clinic and Hospital in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. He can be reached at rjurgenrushell@yahoo.com

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