By Kevin de Vera
September 9, 2021
On March 16, 2020, a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed, restricting people’s movement to control the spread of COVID-19. Unknown to many, while the walls to keep most people safe, a certain population group were barred access to life saving medications. These are the persons living with HIV (PLHIV).
Listening to my peers and colleagues in GM Bicol, I found it disturbing to learn about the situations of these brothers and sisters from the PLHIV community. With clear understanding on how important anti-retroviral (ARV) medications to their lives, as a determined member of GM Bicol, we wanted to understand more about their situations, hence, we attempted to conduct situational analysis by looking into their lived experiences. This study was conducted between March to May of 2020 - the onset of community lockdown.
The study is focused on exploring the lived experiences of PLHIVs and to develop recommendations to be able to immediately respond to their situations in the middle of thinning down health system, impacted by the pandemic. This is an exploratory descriptive study which looked into the lived experiences of eight PLHIVs in Bicol region, through one-on-one interview. Two key informant interviews and the review of related literatures was done to support the experiences. Ultimately, the experiences of the participants were used to draw recommendations in improving HIV programming and services amid pandemic, especially of what GM Bicol can further do to assist them, using ecological models in public health.
The study revealed that: most PHLIVs live outside the area where their treatment hubs are located, and that with forced border restrictions imposed, accessing live saving medications is impossible; more than the COVID-19, PLHIVs’ mental health were more affected by the having no access to their anti-retroviral medications; most of PLHIVs were laid off from their source of income, and; some PLHIVs were locked down in locations outside their actual residences. With very few functional treatment hubs in the Bicol region, PLHIVs coped in their recent situation through: family and community support provided emotional and psychological comfort; community-based groups providing assistance to PLHIVs were supportive in bridging gaps in the HIV programming and services.
"Recommendations and ways moving forward
...it is highly recommended to strengthen the ecological elements around the PLHIVs in particular along intrapersonal, interpersonal, institutional and public policy levels. Series of online educational discussions to mental health and HIV situation can be done to influence PLHIVs’ intrapersonal and interpersonal response to their social and health situation. Equally important is for community-based groups, like ourselves, the GM Bicol, and local governments, including national agencies, to enact healthy public programs and policies which can promote or constrain behaviors, likewise, support health actions to respond to the thinning down public HIV programs, as most health programs shifted to COVID-19 response.
"Where are we now? Outside the scope of the study
...the Department of Health Region V was steadfast in addressing the issues on access to ARV refills. GM Bicol as one of the most active community-based groups in the region provided its support in bridging the gaps in ARV refills.
GM Bicol hotlines, especially its online presence, have been opened to all concerned individuals, inside Bicol and those who were trapped by the community quarantine outside the region, needing assistance with their refills.