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HIV epidemic

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok May 07,2015 - 01:05 PM

The National HIV/Aids Testing Week (May 11 – 17) reels off in a couple of days and if government and nongovernment organizations are doing their utmost to keep the public aware of the disease, it is because the statistics are getting very scary each year.

Yesterday, the Regional Department of Health reported that Central Visayas is second to Manila in terms of the most number of people afflicted by HIV/Aids.

In Cebu, there have been 67 reported cases and 1,872 others tested positive for HIV, an increase of 33 percent compared to the previous tally of  reported cases. Bohol is next to Cebu, and Siquijor shows the smallest number of persons living with HIV/Aids.   Because persons with HIV/Aids are usually afraid and do not want to go public about their condition, the figures are not accurate. Health professionals are the first to say that the number could even be double or triple.

The most disturbing angle of the report is that many of the reported 1,872 cases, 1,834 are male: 75 percent got the virus from sexual contact, while 25 percent got it through intravenous drug use.

Twenty years ago,  HIV/Aids cases were attributed to transmission by male overseas workers who returned to the Philippines with the dreaded disease. This time the situation has radically changed.

The number of people who go to the HIV/Aids testing in the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) has doubled, and most of them are young male adults working in urban centers.

In 2010, DOH Manila was able to treat 10 HIV/Aids cases a day.  Then the number increased to 20 in a matter of only two years.  The “doubling time” of HIV/Aids at that time, when the number of affected persons through the country was at 8,800, was supposed to be 10 years but the rapid spread of the disease drastically reduced the “doubling time” to just one instead of 10 years.  In other words, the number of HIV/Aids cases from 2010 to the present could now be at more than 150,000.

The government strategy of early detection through voluntary testing and cure via anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs is being pushed.  It is complemented by a massive information drive which is a step in the right direction because we can’t be in denial about the Aids epidemic any longer.

The spread of HIV/Aids among young male urban professionals, described in some reports as MSM or males having sex with males, needs to be discussed openly and intelligently. Moreover, the problem should be contextualized in the culture that engenders the spread of this scourge.

* * *

My coop colleagues in Tacloban City’s Perpetual Help Credit Cooperative are mourning the death of Fr. Flan Daffy, a Redemptorist priest who is acknowledged as the father and moving force of one of the country’s billionaire co-ops, popularly known as PHCCI MPC Tacloban.

The history of PHCCI is the stuff of legends.  What used to be a parish-based co-op founded in 1969 by 33 parishioners with a measly share capital of P1,200.94 has  become a well-recognized business enterprise operating in at least a dozen branches in Leyte and Samar, transacting with more than 80,000 regular and associate members and having aggregate assets of more than P1 billion.

When I documented PHCCI in 2012, the “rags-to-riches” plot seemed interesting but as I listened to the recollection of old-timers, I learned that the work of the Irish priests and Filipino confreres came out as the more powerful storyline.

In 1967, the religious congregation was granted its own parish, carved out from Tacloban City’s main Santo Niño parish.  Appalled by the poor living conditions in the seaside and hillside communities as well as the apathetic attitude of the people, many of whom were indebted to loan sharks, the Redemptorists then led by Fr. Flan Daffy commissioned the Asian Social Institute to make a baseline economic survey of the area.

The Redemptorists then proceeded to set up a credit union in 1968.  The late Fr. Abdon Josol, C.Ss.R. helped organized parishioners and encouraged them to attend credit cooperative seminars.  The series of trainings in Cagayan de Oro, Cebu City and Tacloban clinched the decision for the Redemptorist Fathers to set up a co-op in the parish.

Cooperators nowadays would often breeze through a half-day or even just a two-hour pre-membership seminar, but during those days Fr. Flan Daffy required each prospective member to attend seminar meetings every Saturday for a period of 3 to 4 months.  The first batch of members included a tuba gatherer, owners of sari-sari stores, a labandera, a photographer and a number of housewives who were then taking reading and writing lessons under the parish’s adult education program.  In short, they were mostly unschooled people who did not know anything about the cooperative system.

The growth and development of PHCCI Tacloban would not be complete without mentioning significant events in Southern Leyte in the early ‘60s.  It was during this period when the Scarboro Fathers, a Canadian congregation, arrived in Hinundayan, a very poor town located in central Southern Leyte.

The Canadian priests were familiar with the Antigonish cooperative model having learned it from the Coady Institute of St. Francis Xavier Institute in Nova Scotia, Canada.  To ease poverty in Hinundayan, the Scarboro missionaries set up a co-op system through a parish program called “Saving Souls the Credit Union Way.”  The Scarboro Missionaries shared their experiences with the Redemptorists in Tacloban by conducting a series of seminars for the core group of parishioners.  Finally, the co-op in Tacloban was registered in April 1969 with an office located in one of the rooms of the parish convent.

I write this as a preface to the documentary “The Power of the Flock” which airs this Saturday on Co-op TV (CCTN Channel 47, 6 a.m. & 5:30 p.m.).  It is a powerful and moving story, one that makes me understand why my friends, Flordelis Menzon, Mana Rosing Pedrosa, Evelyn Clarin, Carmelita Dacut, Maria Jenny Advincula and many more  still feel emotional about the passing of their founder.

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TAGS: AIDS, bohol, Cebu, HIV, sex

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