Saturday, March 20, 2010

The rise of HIV awareness

Forget regret, or life you're sure to miss. No other road, no other way; no day but today.
– Jonathan Larson, Finale B (Rent)

Late Thursday night, as I was driving home from work, I tuned in to Raffy Reyes on Heard on Thursdays (RX 93.1). The guest that night was Wanggo Gallaga, who lives with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

What, HIV again?!

Yes, it seems the topic is making the rounds these days, or at least I've been seeing it more often. 

First, there was Freddie Mercury, the late front man of the band Queen. On the anniversary of Live Aid 1985, I read up on the band's performance and started watching its performances and MTVs on YouTube. I watched the last music video he recorded, These Are The Days of Our Lives, where he looked really gaunt; black and white photography and bright stage lights didn't hide his exhaustion. He succumbed to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) a few months later, at 45 years of age.

Second, there was Rent. The bohemian lifestyle led by the characters in the Alphabet City encouraged risky behaviour, which made them a high-risk group for HIV. With most of them living –– not dying –– with AIDS, they find the support they need to stay alive in the harsh city. The song Seasons of Love, which was performed during The Gift, now has new meaning for me.

Third, the Department of Health (DOH) announced that there is a steep increase in the number of reported cases of HIV infection in the Philippines. Take note of the word: reported. To curb the disturbing rise in the number of HIV/AIDS cases, the DOH had taken upon itself to promote the Reproductive Health Bill. A controversial manuscript, this one is, because the Philippine representatives of the Catholic Church are vehemently against the passing of the bill. With elections coming up, the bill is one thing political candidates have to deliberate on: how to appease the Church while making sure that people know their options regarding their health.

Last (but not the least on this list), people with the infection are stepping up and informing others about the disease. Wanggo Gallaga, although not claiming to work as an advocate, is one of those who believe that information is the best weapon against HIV at the moment. I heard him in Raffy Reyes' show, and I'm sure he is also discussing the disease and its prevention in other forms of media.

The questions sent in by the listeners on Thursday night proved that there are a lot more things to know about the disease. Wanggo seems to be an effective spokesperson because he caught a lot of people's attention during the show, and he was dishing out information that could actually help them. Plus, he is most likely in his late 20s, early 30s... a member of the yuppie age group; simply too young to come to terms with his own mortality. Still, he makes the issue relatable to that age group; that's the most important thing.

The topic is currently largely taboo, though the channels for discussion are not as tightly sealed as during the late Sarah Jane Salazar's time (1975-2000). A lot more work still needs to be done, and I salute people like Wanggo (and the HIV+ lady who visited UPRHS when I was in senior year, I think) for making an effort to educate us about the disease, how to avoid it, and what it's like living with it.

Love in the time of AIDS: "a broken heart is the least of your worries" (I quote from Raffy Reyes).

Thank you, Wanggo.