By Kevin de Vera
November 11, 2021
As most LGUs’ focus is on addressing COVID-19, the HIV and SRH programming thinned down. This is a crucial moment to most underserved population groups to have access to SRH services, like young people, men-having-sex-with-men (MSM), people living with HIV (PLHIV), and the LGBTQI+ population, who even before the pandemic are already challenged to assert their sexual and reproductive health rights. In Albay, for the past 5 years, HIV cases continued to increase. Most of the duration of the imposed community quarantine, the regular HIV programs such as education and Information campaigns were stopped, social hygiene clinics and testing hubs were either temporarily closed or its personnel was transferred to COVID-19 response, PLHIVs were barred to accessing their medications, and the youth, especially 20 and below were forced to stay in their homes.
During these times, community-based organizations were the ones who tried to fill in the gaps. GM Bicol for SRHR, Inc. and GAYON Albay LGBT Organization, Inc. were on the fronts of assisting PLHIVs, students who were locked in their boarding houses, LGBTQI+ who lost their jobs, PLHIVs who were displaced, among others.
SaluDamayan, a coming together of Bicol CBOs to maximize community-based HIV education and screening amid the pandemic. This initiative which rolled out from June 16 to October 15, 2021, was supported by the Academy of Political Management Alumni Network (APM), and Friedrich Eibert Stiftung Philippines.
Highlights and learnings
The Saludamayan project was able to conduct 9 outreach activities and reached 161 individuals who were provided HIV counseling and screened for HIV.
In the duration of 4 months, 14 individuals had reactive results, and all were linked to care.
Three 3 SK Federations in the region were engaged, which led to a wide range of advocacy activities, such as the conduct of learning sessions on sexual and reproductive health and the expanded reach of HIV screening to young people.
Three online learning sessions were held participated by various groups, mostly young key population, and health advocates.
Beyond the numbers, it is important for community solidarity amid the pandemic to address key public health issues, such as HIV and AIDS. Equally important is the local government's support to community initiatives in filling the pandemic-induced poverties to HIV services and HIV vulnerable groups and individuals.
While social media and other online venues were found vital in advancing HIV education and creating demand for HIV services, the digital divide still calls for more outreach activities to be able to bring necessary information and community-based HIV screening to young people and other at-risk populations.
Moving forward - beyond SaluDamayan APM Initiative
The local CBOs recognized the importance of consistent advocacy work in levels of media, government, and grassroots. As volunteer-based organizations, sustaining these initiatives requires a handful of commitment from its allies and volunteers, but equally important is a friendly political environment supportive of community participation in public decision making.