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Training on community-based HIV screening held for Deaf community in Mnl

To help empower members of the Deaf community in the Philippines to start helping other Deaf Filipinos know their HIV status, and thereby – if they tested HIV-positive – access available treatment, care and support, a training on community-based HIV screening was held for Deaf community members in Manila.

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To help empower members of the Deaf community in the Philippines to start helping other Deaf Filipinos know their HIV status, and thereby – if they tested HIV-positive – access available treatment, care and support, a training on community-based HIV screening was held for Deaf community members in Manila.

The training is actually one in three that will be provided by a project by the Bahaghari Center for Research, Education an Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center), backed by collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyed to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) In Asia and the Pacific.

Disney Aguila, who heads the project, and is the concurrent president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, is first to admit that “problems regarding access to HIV-related services (particularly in this case) by Deaf Filipinos remain numerous.” This is why, for Aguila, “every effort to immediately help deal with these issues count.”

These challenges are multi-pronged, yet interconnected.

On the side of the Deaf Filipinos:

1) Knowledge about HIV remains low.

In 2012, Michael David C. Tan – publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBTQI publication in the Philippines, and head of Bahaghari Center – conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices of Deaf LGBT Filipinos on HIV and AIDS. The study had numerous disturbing findings.

To start, majority of the respondents (33 or 54.1%) were within the 19-24 age range at the time of the study, followed by those who are over 25 (21 or 34.3%).

Most of them (53 of 61 Deaf respondents) had sex before they reached 18, the legal age of consent in the Philippines. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.

Only 21 (34.4%) use condoms, and – worryingly – even among those who used condoms, 12 (19.7%) had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.

Perhaps the unsafe sexual practice should not be surprising, considering that not even half (29, 47.5%) of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS, with even less that number (23, 37.7%) knowing someone who died of HIV or AIDS-related complications. And with not even half of the total respondents (29) familiar with HIV and AIDS, not surprisingly, only 19 (31.1%) consider HIV and AIDS as serious, with more of them considering HIV and AIDS as not serious (20, 32.8%) or maybe serious (22, 36.1%).

The study also noted that the level of general knowledge about HIV and AIDS is low, with 40 (65.6%) of them falling in this category. Only about 1/5 of them (12, 19.7%) had high level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Even fewer (9, 14.8%) may be classified as having moderate knowledge level.

2) Continuing neglect of inclusion of Deaf community members in HIV-related discussions.

For instance, there may have been HIV-related projects including Deaf Filipinos in the past, but these have been very limited to Deaf LGBTQI people.

It is worth noting that this issue is not limited ONLY to the LGBTQIA members of the Deaf community. This issue also affects the SRHR of the Deaf community, as a whole.

For the World Health Organization (WHO), health is a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Specific to reproductive health, WHO stresses that it “implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.”

It is nonetheless unfortunate that various studies – including Tan’s – highlight how the Deaf community continues to be left behind because they are not able to access safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation/s of their choice.

For instance, a study carried out by Deafax (EARS Campaign, 2012) revealed “higher than average levels of STIs, pregnancy and inappropriate behavior within the Deaf community.” This study specifically showed that: 35% of Deaf people did not receive any sex education at school; 65% said that sex education was inaccessible; and 36% learned through direct sexual experience.”

Dealing with SRHR vis-à-vis HIV is obviously just as tricky in the Philippines.

From January 1984 to July 2018, sexual contact among men who have sex with men (MSM) was the predominant (84%, 44,929) mode of transmission among males. Just as that moniker suggests, many of these MSM are not necessarily gay/homosexual, but also engage in sex with opposite sex partners.

This is connected to the population of those most vulnerable to risks associated with sexual activity getting younger, including HIV. But while this has been noted in the Hearing population, the Deaf community is largely ignored, with no existing data on HIV prevalence among them.

In fact, also from January 1984 to July 2018, 16,074 (28%) of the reported cases were 15-24 years old; and broken down, 1,813 were infected through male-female sex, 9,031 from male-male sex, and 4,662 from sex with both males and females.

This means that so long as the HIV infection rate among MSM increases, so do the risk for infection among women.

As it is, the number of diagnosed HIV infections among females in the Philippines has already increased. Females diagnosed with HIV from January to July 2018 (362) was almost three times the number of diagnosed cases compared to the same period of 2013 (126). Ninety-three percent (3,426) of all female cases were in the reproductive age group (15-49 years old) at the time of diagnosis.

With the dearth – if not complete absence – of information for the Deaf community in the Philippines about HIV, Deaf Filipinos (irrespective of their SOGIE) continue not to be informed of and have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of birth control; as well as appropriate health care services of sexual, reproductive medicine and implementation of health education program.

3) Lack of HIV-related materials in Filipino Sign Language (FSL).

According to Aguila, still many people – including service providers – do not know that the Deaf community has its own language (with its own grammar and syntax). And so HIV-related materials are often produced with the assumption that “everyone can already immediately understand them, which is not necessarily true.”

Aguila recommends the development and production of materials specifically targeting the Deaf community to ensure “that the messages being relayed are truly understood,” she said.

Already, Bahaghari Center has released PSAs on the basics of HIV.

PSA on HIV basics released in Filipino Sign Language

On the side of Filipino Sign Language interpreters:

1) There is still a lack of interpreters in the country (particularly in far-flung areas.

2) Also, even among the available interpreters, not many actually know about HIV.

3) There is also the lack of interpreters who can accompany Deaf Filipinos who end up testing HIV-positive when they access treatment, care and support services.

4) And there – currently – are no HIV-related programs being offered to ensure that willing interpreters are also given HIV-related knowledge and skills.

Aguila admitted that “we definitely still have a long way to go; but we do what we can, and starting with one step – such as training Deaf community members to start testing other Deaf Filipinos is but one good step.”

The training in Manila – as well as in Cebu City in the Visayas and Davao City in Mindanao – is provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.

Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.

 

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Teaching Deaf Mindanawons about community-based HIV screening

Select members of the Deaf community in Mindanao were trained not only on the basics of HIV, but also on community-based HIV screening.

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“We’ve (actually) been given info on the basics of HIV,” admitted Prime Truya, a local Deaf LGBTQIA community leader from Davao City, “but past efforts have been limited to ‘basic knowledge’ sharing.”

With this, select members of the Deaf community in Mindanao were trained not only on the basics of HIV, but also on community-based HIV screening.

This endeavor – part of a project by Bahaghari Center for Research, Education an Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center), backed by collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyes to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) In Asia and the Pacific – is the first to actually teach the Deaf about actual screening/testing.

The goal, said Disney Aguila of Bahaghari Center and Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, Inc., is not just to “inform them that this issue is just as important to them. It is also to equip them with the actual know-how on what to do to become solutions in dealing with this issue.”

This project is also a follow-through of the public service announcements (PSAs) developed in Filipino Sign Language (FSL) to specifically tap the Deaf community.

PSA on HIV basics released in Filipino Sign Language

PSA on getting tested for HIV released in Filipino Sign Language

PSA deals in Filipino Sign Language what happens after rapid HIV test

Aguila lamented that “the Deaf community is often left behind in HIV-related efforts. Not surprisingly, we have a lot of catching up to do.”

In Davao City, for instance, at least prior to the Bahaghari Center project, none of the Deaf community members were trained to screen/test others for HIV. This “approach of not empowering us makes us dependent on Hearing people,” Aguila said, adding that this dependence is not always good because “it disempowers us in dealing with this issue.”

Aguila admitted that the Deaf community will continue to have “an uphill battle in fighting HIV exactly because of this playing catch-up,” she said. “But every effort than can be done now should already be done now.”

The community-based HIV screening trainings are provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.

Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.

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Cebu’s Deaf community taught community-based HIV screening

Select members of the Deaf community from the Province of Cebu were trained on the basics of HIV, and on community-based HIV screening in an effort to “inform them that this issue is just as important to them, and that – given the chance – they can help become the solutions to deal with this.”

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Helping Deaf Filipinos to help themselves.

Select members of the Deaf community from the Province of Cebu were trained on the basics of HIV, and on community-based HIV screening in an effort to “inform them that this issue is just as important to them, and that – given the chance – they can help become the solutions to deal with this,” said Disney Aguila of Bahaghari Center for Research, Education an Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) and Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, Inc.

The training is part of a project by Bahaghari Center, backed by collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyes to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) In Asia and the Pacific.

This project is also a follow-through of the public service announcements (PSAs) developed in Filipino Sign Language (FSL) to specifically tap the Deaf community.

PSA on HIV basics released in Filipino Sign Language

PSA on getting tested for HIV released in Filipino Sign Language

PSA deals in Filipino Sign Language what happens after rapid HIV test

Aguila lamented that “perhaps because the Deaf community is often left behind in HIV-related efforts, we have a lot of catching up to do,” she said.

In Cebu City, for instance, even if participants recognized the importance/urgency of tackling HIV, there are sectors that are still “unable to go beyond their fear of talking about sex and sexuality.”

Noticeably, the Hearing community “may already talk about SOGIE concepts and so on, but – because we have not always been included in discussions, we’re still learning the basics,” Aguila said.

This is why, for Aguila, every effort counts to “ensure that we are included in the discussions; and perhaps just as importantly, also empowered so that we need not be dependent on the Hearing community just to be able to access lifesaving services.”

Aguila said that “this development may not come immediately, but every step leading there helps.”

The community-based HIV screening trainings are provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.

Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.

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PSA deals in Filipino Sign Language what happens after rapid HIV test

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One of the biggest confusions re HIV testing in the Philippines is answering the question on “what happens after one gets tested for HIV,” said Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) and concurrent president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow (PDR).

The confusion is not helped by numerous factors – e.g.: various testing facilities are, in a way, “autonomous”, so there are varying practices; and information about post-testing remains limited.

No matter the reason/s for the confusion, “the effect is the same: it discourages many people from getting HIV testing and/or screening,” Aguila said.

To demystify particularly rapid HIV screening to “help simplify the HIV discussion for the Deaf community in the Philippines,” a public service announcement (PSA) was released on the getting tested for HIV in the Philippines, and what happens after one gets tested.

The PSA is the third in a series of PSAs produced as part of a Bahaghari Center project backed by a collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyed to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) in Asia and the Pacific.

PSA on HIV basics released in Filipino Sign Language

Particularly pertaining rapid HIV test, “we want to educate particularly Deaf Filipinos about post-testing – that, if you are non-reactive, there are steps you can do to stay non-reactive; and if you’re positive, help is available to help you access treatment, care and support (including getting antiretroviral medicines) so you can live a long, healthy life.”

PSA on getting tested for HIV released in Filipino Sign Language

Aguila stressed that knowing one’s HIV status is important to protect oneself and others around him/her.

If one is HIV-positive, then he/she can start taking antiretroviral medicine (ARV) that will prevent the HIV (virus) from replicating and thereby help him/her stay healthy and live longer/normal lives.

And if one is HIV-negative, then he/she can take steps to stay negative (for example, by practicing safer sexual practices).

“It starts with getting oneself tested,” Aguila said, “which is why we encourage people to get tested.”

Most hospitals and clinics can give HIV testing.

Social hygiene clinics (SHC) located in select barangays can also give HIV testing and/or HIV screening.

Various non-government organizations also offer HIV testing and/or screening.

There are also people who are certified to give rapid HIV test.

A series of community-based HIV testing trainings are given to select members of the Deaf community in Metro Manila/Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao is to “empower members of the Deaf community to be more proactive in dealing with HIV by allowing the Deaf to help the Deaf.” These trainings are provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.

Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.

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