Twenty two years ago, the first day of December was declared World AIDS Day.
We were taking up our graduate studies at the University of Santo Tomas in 1985 when thefirst known AIDS case in a Filipino was reported.
And, like the rest of the universe down with love, still we believed there was a need to raise money, to increase awareness, to fight prejudice, and to improve education about the famous unknown – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome!
So, we decided that for our M.A. in Psychology thesis, we would use poetry therapy for PWAs, or Persons With AIDS.
Off we went to Bahay Lingap at the San Lazaro Hospital with our letter asking for permission to conduct our research on Poetry Therapy.
Even with purity in our spirit, we were turned down by Dr. Edna Santiago in 1993.
For our second try, we asked the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to materialize our dream.
After several visits the same year, RITM broke our heart too.
However, we were referred to its resident psychologist, Dr. Isabel Melgar, who invited us to their Patients Forum with Dr. Bernardino Agustin.
There, at the St. Luke's Medical Center, we were able to prove our point in 1994.
Of, for, and by cancer instead.
The rest is history.
It led to the Expressive Arts Therapy, a first in Asia, at the National Arts Center in Mt. Makiling.
It produced our play Sens Op Tyumor.
And it gave birth to Kapisanan ng May K sa Pilipinas.
In 1999, Dr. Jojo Yu -- a psychiatrist on rotation for consultation liaison at the SLH -- permitted us to do Poetry Therapy, as part of his group program at SLH's Bahay Lingap.
From our very brief stint, we were able to produce the poems like intoxication:
Where are the fairies that protect and see
Flora and fauna of this place to be?
Falling hair, polluted and stained air
Scabies, gone are the trees
Difficulty to swallow, wildlife run
I’m dying while Mother Earth sinks.
Where are the fairies?
They are simply dead, dearie!
Well, the poem was written by “Maya,” who was in born in 1964 like us. After his mother died, he grew up with his grandmother. In Bulacan, he was secretly molested by his own cousin in 1970. He transferred to his mom's house in Samar where he finished grade school. He went back to Bulacan, his dad's hometown, in 1979 to study high school, As a scholar, he learned the ways of the world in 1980 from his cousin. Maltreated by his aunt, he moved as a domestic help to Tondo just to finish college until 1987. After his civil service eligibility in 1989, he became a teacher. He was able to find odd jobs -- in Taiwan in 1993 and Japan in 1997. In 1998, AIDS was making its presence felt. And “Maya” believed that it was due to his latest sexcapade abroad. He realized that he had full-blown AIDS in 1999 when we met him, still in search for that all-too elusive true love!
After a year, the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House published our study.
Called Poetreat, it is subtitled The Use of Poetry Therapy in Mutual Support Groups of Cancer Survivors in Metro Manila.
During the time, there was no such sourcebook or, shall we say layman's guide, about AIDS in our country.
Up until the publication of the latest AIDS Society of the Philippines' book.
Last year, after Mrs. Josie Pagaduan invited us to judge the Secondary Schools Press Conference in Bataan, we were with Dr. Luis Gatmaitan who also extended his invitation whenAIDS in the Philippines got off the press.
Due to previous commitment, we missed its launch at Anabel's.
There, we had a deja vu of sorts when we attended a party given by her loved ones to Ligaya Pacquing Juat, who turned 80 last December 2.
(Well, the celebration occurred during the opening day of Fact Sheet exhibit of Artist Arrest – who did a hunger strike for Morong 43 as part of the Human Rights Week activities -- at the Ishmael Bernal Gallery in University of the Philippines, as if to welcome Dr. Alfredo Pascual as its new president!)
Anyway, the said Philippine-flag-colored book is edited by Dr. Ofelia T. Monzon, the founding president of AIDS Society of the Philippines, upon the suggestion of Dr. Dominic Garcia, Dr. Mari Rose Aplasca de los Reyes, Dr. Dorothy Agdamag, Dr. Rosario Tactacan- Abrenica, and Dr. Salud Zaldivar three years ago. She is ably assisted by Luis and its associate editor, Diana Mendoza, and the rest of its editorial team. Its contributors include Dr. Melgar, whose family own its printer, and our country's AIDS advocates such as Dr. Agdamag, Dr. De los Reyes, Dr. Tactacan-Abrenica, and Dr. Salud Zaldivar with Joel Atienza, Teresita Bagasao, Dr. Agnes Barrientos, Dr. Carlos Calica, Dr. Rossana Ditangco, Dr. Florencio Dizon, Dr. Jaime Montoya, Dr. Consorcia Lim-Quizon, Dr. Vicente Salas, Nieves Serra, Dr. Jose Narciso Sescon, Lydia Sombrero, Dr. Melecia Velmonte, and Dr. Manuel Dayrit, former Department of Health secretary last year, who wrote: “AIDS policy and its successful implementation are truly about keeping people healthy.”
Need we say more?
Of course and it has something to do with its reach to the public.
Especially now -- when, according to United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates, there are now 33.3 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children -- there is a greater necessity to share useful information in this day and age when our Church and State are showing no love for each other about condoms and the like.
But the look of the book itself is prohibitive. And it appears to be pricy. Thus, scary. So may we recommend for a less expensive edition? And with a Filipino translation?
However, by the time the translating is over, there will be tons of conquered truths about AIDS so, might as well create an online form.
On the other hand, not all of us have internet access. It is possible, then, to have a brochure or comic book style for hospital distribution? Or do we have a more memorable yet lovable mascot than Yosi Kadiri reminding all that in three years we are going to have more than 30,000 people with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines?
Why not include AIDS education in our curriculum? With this 280-page AIDS in the Philippines as our textbook or supplementary reading?
Hopefully, clinicians and other health professionals, program managers, project leaders, health advocates, policy makers, researchers and academics – to whom the package and language in this book would be appealing – will be better equipped to popularize AIDS prevention and treatment – so that it translates into risk reduction activities and help-seeking behavior for all and those at high risk of contracting AIDS.
The twentieth century has seen the emergence of new infectious diseases such as severe
acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), various types of influenza, and hemorrhagic fevers.
Of these, the condition now popularly known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or
AIDS was initially encountered as a puzzling conglomeration of symptoms whose etiology
was not demonstrated until a few years later. This disease engendered feelings of repulsion, similar to that seen to leprosy in previous centuries.
We become human through other humans. To do one act of goodness for one person is to do it for the whole of humanity.