Sunday, May 25, 2014

HIV is not equal to AIDS

That's right, HIV is not equal to AIDS. Ironically, if there's one person who needs to read this... it's DOH's Asst. Secretary Tawag, who is advocating mandatory HIV testing, without even knowing what HIV and AIDS are!  See my past post on Sec Tayag's ignorance

What’s in a name?

In the comedy version of Robin Hood, Men in Tights, at the end of the movie, King Richard Lionheart is judging the evil Prince John. King Richard says to him, because of what you have done in Nottingham, from now on we will call a toilet THE JOHN. This light play on words is a good illustration of how certain names or words can evoke negative responses.
I’m not writing about toilets though. I’m writing about a three letter acronym which holds its own connotations: HIV.
When first a syndrome was identified around this new and unidentified “thing” that was decreasing people’s immunity, doctors had no idea what caused it. The first medical paper written spoke of six homosexual men in San Francisco who had developed this immune deficiency, so it was labeled GRID – Gay Related Immune Deficiency. It was however soon clear that it was not only gay men who were developing this syndrome, so it was renamed AIDS – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Still, we did not know what caused AIDS. But one thing we were sure of was that AIDS=death.
The death language infiltrated everything: it was emphasized to promote fear and frighten people into prevention, it was security alerts about traveling to certain countries because they had AIDS. The rally cry was AIDS, and the first responses were a call from judgment to pity. “Feel sorry for these poor dying masses, try and ease their pain”.
In 1984, just months a few years after AIDS was named, the cause was found: it was a virus, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). But there was no treatment, and there was no cure. Whether you spoke about AIDS or HIV did not matter, because it was assumed that as soon as you got HIV you had started the downward spiral to AIDS and death. We came to talk about HIV/AIDS, because they were essentially two sides of the same coin. We referred to people who had this infection as PLHA – People with HIV/AIDS. In countries like America and Australia, many young men diagnosed with HIV cashed in life insurance policies, threw big parties, and in the middle of the party would be accompanied to a room by close friends and helped to commit suicide. Death was inevitable, why not chose to go in style rather than have your body wither away in pain and suffering trying in vain to fight of the inevitable.
This is however not the end of the story, since slow progress was being made in developing treatment. By 1987, AZT had been identified as stopping the progress of HIV, and by 1996 triple therapy was identified as a manageable treatment to inhibit HIV from further progressing in the body; an effective treatment had been found. Through the years, we have seen dramatic advances in treating HIV to the point that while we cannot cure HIV, AIDS is entirely curable or reversible.
We now live in the era were HIV does not need to equal AIDS, and does not need to cause death.
In a nutshell we live in a world were HIV can cause AIDS, but does not have to. AIDS can be cured, and people can live long, healthy and productive lives with HIV. Now people who have been infected with this virus, as long as it is diagnosed and treated, can expect to live their normal lifetime. And these people have themselves said: “We no longer want to be called PLHA, we are now people LIVING with HIV (PLHIV). We live, we contribute, we can make our own decisions.”
This history is given to call for a closer examination of the language we use when speaking about HIV. While where diagnosis does not happen or treatment is not available AIDS is still possible, we have all the knowledge to prevent this; effective and quick test kits, effective treatment, and good information and practice in relation to prevention. What we do not always have is the political will, the stigma free environment which allows people to freely test, or the supportive environment in which people can openly live with HIV without fear or discrimination. If we continue to speak about HIV/AIDS, we promote the concept that that are synonymous and out of control – to be feared. If we speak about HIV and PLHIV, we promote the understanding that this virus is identifiable, treatable and preventable. If we speak about “full blown AIDS”, I would ask: “Is there half blown AIDS? Does there need to be AIDS? Why have we not been able to help the person concerned with the necessary treatment?” Today there should and is no need to speak of AIDS at all anymore.
SO, realign your mind, watch your tongue, change your speech patterns and help reduce stigma by using affirming, inclusive, positive and, above all, correct terminology about HIV and those who live and work with it.
Rev. Fr. JP Mokgethi-Heath is an Anglican priest working for the Church of Sweden. He is openly and positively living with HIV.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I'm 140 lbs Now!

After my 3rd OI last year, I lost 22 lbs from my average weight of 137 lbs before the OI's. I have never been on the 110's lbs  range for such a long time. Last time I was this light was way back in high school. I couldn't believe that after several years, I'm back to this weight range. So, after discharge, I ate like a pig... well not really, just guinea pig. :)

While at home, recovering from OI's, I eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack. After snack, I exercise on the legs, as this optimizes muscle gain. Then, I eat dinner and night snack. Then, finally before sleeping, I drink Ensure. Ensure tastes like milk. And milk makes me feel like throwing up. But I wanted to gain weight badly, especially before I get back to work. So, I trained my self to drink Ensure. My tip: eat a tiny piece of chocoloate before Ensure, and you won't taste Ensure's milky flavor. :) 

Anyway, that was my daily eating routine. Luckily, I gained 1 lb per week. In 3 months' time, my weight gained from 115 to 128. Not bad! When I got back to work, I continued my eating routine, and even added a cup of oats (to lower my bad cholesterol). Like milk, oats is an acquired tastes. I can now tolerate its flavor, when before it made me so feel sick. Another tip: mix it with pork floss from Bee Cheng Hiang. 

Now, 10 months after my last hospitalization for OI, people are starting to notice that I have already regained my old weight. Yesterday, I weighed myself. I can't believe it. I'm now 140 lbs! And my BMI is normal. It's been ages since I weighed 140 lbs! My pants are now starting to be tight on the waist... unfortunately, as a a side effect of ARV - uneven distribution of weight. :( But at least, I don't look sick and malnourished anymore. I'm happy with my 140 lbs. But I should exercise more and reduce my waistline from now on. Maybe I can also stop eating midnight snack, and replace fastfood with healthier options. 

Totoo nga! ARV results in weight gain, actually even makes some people overweight. But more than that, I also read somewhere that weight gain after ARV is a good indicator of survival from AIDS. Hooray to that!!! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Philippine Asst Health Secretary Does Not Know HIV

An hour ago, on "Aquino and Abunta Tonight"...

Boy Abunda: Is there a cure for HIV?
DOH Asst Secretary Tayag: There is no cure. But you can delay its progression to AIDS!

WTF! If the DOH secretary himself doesn't know what HIV medicines do, what more can we can expect from common people? Sec. Tayag, this is misinformation, and is not encouraging people to have the test. No wonder, we are one of the very few countries with rising HIV cases. 

Sec. Tayag, FYI, if you don't know (which I assume you don't), it is very important to diagnose HIV early on. Why? To regularly monitor your CD4 count and prevent it from going below 500 or 350 (in our country). Once the CD4 count of a person goes down to this level, he can start taking ARV. Once he is on ARV, the ARV can control HIV and even reduce it to undetectable level. The ARV will also increase the CD4 count of the person from the time he started taking ARV.  

HIV is considered an AIDS case when your CD4 goes down to <200, or you get HIV opportunistic infections (which normally infect PLHIV with CD4 below 200). Now, if you started your ARV at 500 or 350, it is very likely that your CD4 wouldn't even go below 200, and as such, you won't experience any HIV opportunistic infection at all. Thus, this stops (take note, stop not just delay) the HIV from progressing to AIDS!

This is my greatest regret. I refused to have an HIV test early on because I was so scared. I thought that since HIV doesn't have a cure, it will always lead to AIDS, and PLHIV eventually die of AIDS. I didn't know how ARV works. I didn't know these facts. Well, obviously, the health secretary doesn't know as well. What a shame! Inuubos kasi oras sa pagsasayaw eh!

Anyway, I hope this enlightens some people, and would encourage proactive testing for those at risk of HIV. Yes, there is no cure for HIV. But there is ARV that can control the virus, increase one's immune system (as measured by the CD4), and stop (not just merely delay) the progression of HIV to AIDS! Early diagnosis can definitely save lives! 

Get tested. It's free and anonymous in several testing centers nationwide. And ARV is free in several HIV Treatment Hubs