World AIDS Day 2021: No one should be left behind

Published December 1, 2021, 11:41 AM

by John Legaspi

Love Yourself Inc. launches new community centers and hubs making HIV and AIDS services more accessible

Since 1988, the first day of December has been observed all over the globe as World AIDS Day. It is a day dedicated to greater awareness and to commemorating the lives who succumbed to the disease. With its more than three-decade legacy, it has been hailed as one of the longest-running disease awareness initiatives in the world.

Through the years, the day is a special moment for people living with HIV and AIDS to feel empowered and to remind them and everyone that we all have a role to do in building a safe society and in beating human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)—that no one should be left behind, especially in the face of another health crisis. That is what World AIDS Day this year is all about. Playing with the theme “End inequalities. End AIDS,” the World Health Organization is putting a focus on “reaching people left behind” and highlighting “the growing inequalities in access to essential HIV services.”

“HIV remains a major public health issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Although the world has made significant progress in recent decades, important global targets for 2020 were not met,” the WHO says. “Division, disparity, and disregard for human rights are among the failures that allowed HIV to become and remain a global health crisis. Now, COVID-19 is exacerbating inequities and disruptions to services, making the lives of many people living with HIV more challenging. On Dec. 1 2021, WHO is calling on global leaders and citizens to rally to confront the inequalities that drive AIDS and to reach people who are currently not receiving essential HIV services.”

LoveYourself’s Welcome hub in Manila

Addressing that concern in the Philippines is LoveYourself Inc., as it opens new community centers this World AIDS Day. The community-based non-profit organization celebrates its 10th year with its expansion that includes seven new community centers and clinics on top of its six existing community centers: Anglo in Mandaluyong, Welcome in Manila, Victoria in Pasay, Lily in Parañaque, Hero in Bacoor, and White House in Cebu. Additional community centers include Athena by LoveYourself in North Caloocan and Bagani by LoveYourself in Bacolod City. Two more clinics provide premium HIV care: Luxecare Starmall EDSA-Shaw and Luxecare Alabang. All four facilities are now operational. Up and coming community centers will be in Baguio and Home for the Golden Gays, which are expected to be finished by the first quarter of 2022.

“The COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed everything that we normally do. We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck in that situation—we need to adapt,” Ronivin Pagtakhan, founder and executive director of LoveYourself Inc., says. “That is why, during the global pandemic, LoveYourself has expanded its services to cater to the different needs of the community.”

Athena hub in North Caloocan

Bagani hub in Bacolod City

As the pandemic pushed everyone to keep their distance, the organization also created adaptive measures by shifting its operations online. Through Booking by LoveYourself, clients can set appointments for all their sexual health and trans-health service needs. People can also do virtual consultations with doctors through its interactive consultations, better known as iCON. For medicine refills, it established Xpress by LoveYourself to ensure continuous treatment of clients living with HIV.

Another innovation and adaptive measure of LoveYourself is the #SafetyVax program, which partners with Mandaluyong City government through its #Mandavax program. It aims to help the government increase social acceptability and access to COVID-19 vaccines to contribute to the goal of achieving herd immunity.

To bring healthcare services more closer to the community, it also revitalizes the acXess by LoveYourself, a mobile clinic project. This is done in partnership with the Pilipinas Shell Foundation Incorporated under the Global Fund COVID-19 Response Mechanism. The acXess mobile clinic is meant to bring HIV-related services to the community, by offering mobile testing and viral load pocket activations. It serves as a mobile safe space for all.

“I’m proud of what LoveYourself has become,” Ronivin says. “From a single tweet, we have established everything we do for our community.”

Learn more about AIDS and HIV this time of COVID-19 pandemic here.