LoveYourself brings ‘safe space’ to Cebu

By: Isabella Kristianne M. Angan May 02,2019 - 09:22 AM

LoveYourself, an organization ran by volunteers, formally opens the LoveYourself White House in Cebu on April 27, 2019. This is LoveYourself’s first community center outside of Metro Manila. | CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / Marvin Maning of LoveYourself Cebu

CEBU CITY, Philippines— In many instances, it’s not the virus that kills; the social stigma that comes with testing positive does.

Having one of the highest number of reported cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) outside Metro Manila, Cebu is in dire need of a safe space to break the stigma, where any individual can feel comfortable without any fear or apprehension.

Christopher Lagman, senior director of the community organization LoveYourself, shares that incidence of HIV and AIDS continues to rise despite the availability of treatment because of the social stigma that comes with testing positive with the virus.

“The topmost issue in HIV is stigma,” says Lagman.

Because of this stigma, people are either “too afraid to get themselves tested or they are too shy to buy protection.”

To address this issue, LoveYourself endeavoured to bring a safe space in Cebu with the opening of the LoveYourself White House, a community center where persons who are possibly infected with HIV and AIDS can be screened and counselled and informed in order to prevent more individuals from being infected.

“LoveYourself is always trying a new concept to diversify its response relative to the needs of our clients, and Cebu has a different set-up with Manila, so we want to be more adaptive as possible,”  says LoveYourself Executive Director Ronivin Pagtakhan.

Since its soft opening on April 6, LoveYourself White House has already catered to at least 30 individuals for HIV screening.

Finally, a safe space

Sitting on a 325-square meter space on J. Llorente Street in Barangay Capitol Site in Cebu City, Lagman says the LoveYourself White House has a co-working space set up with Wi-Fi connectivity and where people can have their coffee.

The community center’s operating schedule is from Wednesdays to Sundays from noon to 9:00 p.m.

Lagman vows that the LoveYourself White House will also become a “safe space” where interventions to prevent the proliferation of the HIV and AIDS virus will be introduced.

Safe Spaces are establishments in the area where the public can get free condoms and lubes.

Cebuano artist Karencitta, or Karen Ann Cabrera in real life, is LoveYourself’s newest ambassador. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / Marvin Maning of LoveYourself Cebu

These places are listed in the Safe Spaces PH, a mobile application technology that was also introduced by LoveYourself to help individuals get access to condoms without having to pass through glaring and judging eyes of the community.

LoveYourself White House is the first community center outside Metro Manila which they established with the help of their partners: AIDS Healthcare Foundations, Macare Medicals, Inc., Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc., and Department of Health in Central Visayas(DOH-7).

Lagman says pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) will be available for the first time in Cebu through the LoveYourself White House within the year.

PrEP is a pill taken daily that reduces the risk of getting HIV from sexual intercourse by more than 90%.

“Love Yourself White House is near different establishments and schools so we designed it as a coworking space with fast wifi so that people can come here, work, and get coffee,” says Jan Shaltiel Vincent Estrada, head of LoveYourself Cebu.

Lagman and Pagtakhan, in a press conference held during the formal launch of LoveYourself White House on April 27, say they want to expand the LoveYourself brand in Central Visayas.

This is to further promote the advocacy and raise awareness to more people in cities and towns.

Cebuano artist Karencitta, or Karen Ann Cabrera in real life, graced the opening ceremony. She is LoveYourself’s newest ambassador.

HIV/AIDS cases in CV

From January 1984 to February 2019, cases of HIV and AIDS in the region makes up 9% of the national total cases of 64, 291.

This placed Central Visayas in the top list of regionswith the highest HIV and AIDS incidence next  to the National Capital Region (NCR) with 40 percent and Calabarzon (Region 4A) with 15 percent.

Central Visayas ties with Central Luzon (Region 3) at 9 percent.

Since HIV and AIDS detection efforts in 1984, DOH-7 recorded 5, 773 cases in Central Visayas, a total of 5, 179 cases is from Cebu.

At least 38% of these reported cases involves people who inject drugs (PWID) and 30% are men having sex with men (MSM).

“NCR has only one problem – people who have sex unprotected. But in Cebu, we have two problems: people who have sex unprotected and share infected needles,” says Dr. Van Philip Baton, program manager of DOH-7’s HIV/AIDS program.

DOH-7 also noted that condom use in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue is low at 15 percent.

One out of every five PWIDs, DOH-7 added are engaged in male-to-male sexual activities while one in every ten PWIDs are involved in commercial sex industry.

Simon Abrahan, a LoveYourself volunteer, makes coffee for the visiting clients of LoveYourself White House. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO / Marvin Maning of LoveYourself Cebu

Love from volunteers 

Lagman says he wanted to design White House in a cozy and homey style because a clinic setting might intimidate those who want to get tested.

Aside from Cebu, LoveYourself currently has five community centers in Manila, where they  also provide HIV screening, counselling and HIV/AIDS education.

LoveYourself was established in 2011 by Lagman and Pagtakhan to create a community specifically for the youth and the LGBT-MSM (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual-Males who have sex with males) community.

Today, LoveYourself has grown into a community with almost 1,100 volunteers with the aim of promoting the value of self-worth and the critical importance of loving one’s self as a core intervention against the spread of HIV/AIDS. /celr & roa

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TAGS: HIV awareness in Cebu, HIV/AIDS Cebu, Karencitta in Cebu, LoveYourself Cebu

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