Monday, May 16, 2011

An open letter to Philhealth

Dear Philhealth,

Firstly, I'd like to think that persons living with HIV (PLHIVs) like me truly appreciate your gesture of taking care of/subsidizing the cost of antiretrovirals (ARVs) that many of us take and of certain laboratory tests that we need to undergo relative to our medical condition, especially with the approaching termination of the Global Fund's financing of the same by December 2012. It would be of great help to us - financially, that is.

But I have some gripes with the way your office is treating us PLHIVs, who do not deserve to be burdened with certain requirements and procedures that would only stress us out a lot. Do know that stress and/or depression is not good for those like me.

You have required PLHIVS still not taking ARVs to pay for the CD4 count, for example. Whether or not, they have Philhealth. A CD4 count in a certain treatment hub costs P3,000! That amount is too heavy for someone who is earning just the minimum wage or barely reaching minimum wage. What if a PLHIV cannot afford to take that count or some other lab tests because of lack of funds? He or she will never know the current status of his or her immuno-compromised health unless he or she undergoes the regular physical exams and lab tests.

Another predicament that PLHIVs face is having to ask our human resources (HR), administrative heads, or managers to sign the CF1 form, which we need to submit every time we get ARVs or every three months. The most common questions asked of us who ask our employers or company officers to sign the documents are: what is this for and why do we need to sign it? We are a loss on how to explain it. We cannot tell them we have HIV, right? Or that we need this document for our HIV treatment.

I have learned that doctors of designated treatment hubs and representatives of PLHIV groups have met Philhealth officers and asked if your office can accept payslips instead of the CF1 because of the difficulty faced by PLHIVs in having it signed. The payslips would show that the employed is a regular contributor to Philhealth anyway. But your office have reportedly turned down the suggestion saying that payslips can be faked. But your office can check with where the PLHIV is working to determine if he or she is indeed employed there as suggested also but your office said that it would entail lots of work and would be an additional burden on your part.

We have the option though to tell our company that we will personally take over paying our contributions directly to Philhealth in order to evade questions on the signing of the CF1 forms but that would be tedious for PLHIVs, knowing how slow procedures are when it comes to government office transactions.


So we PLHIVs have no choice but to submit the CF1 form, along with the MDR every three months, and face the scrutiny of our employers, even the risk of not having our CF1 forms signed unless we can adequately explain why and for what reason is it being submitted for their signature.

I wish your office can make it things easier for us PLHIVs. We already have this medical condition. It was a lapse in our personal judgment by not adhering to safe sex that is why we contracted HIV, but do we have to be "punished" like this by your office?

I hope more consideration would be given to us because the bottom-line here is: lives are at stake.

Yours truly,
R10-AAC of RITM/"Aries"

Good numbers

For persons living with HIV (PLHIV) like me, numbers are a major factor when it comes to our regular checkups. One of the most important of the tests done like CBC, triglycerides count, and viral load, is the CD4 count, which checks whether one's CD4 or T-helper cells have either decreased or increased in number. The CD4 or T-helper cells are the immune system's fighters against any form of viral or bacterial infection. Since I am immuno-compromised, my CD4 count is in peril of being depleted if I am not taking antiretrovirals or taking any steps to keep myself as healthy as possible, which included managing my stress levels and not get depressed for any reason.

I had my CD4 count last Friday - the third to be done since I was diagnosed in March last year. It also coincided with the anniversary of my first checkup on April 16, 2010 at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, which is my chosen treatment hub. Since it has been more a year, I needed to undergo the annual checkup like CBC and other tests. The CBC, by the way, is meant to find out if my CBC level has not gone down since one of the effects of taking ARVs is a decrease in the CBC. But I was more interested in learning my CD4 count because I wanted to know if it has increased or decreased in number.

Hereunder is my CD4 count:
April 16, 2010 - 315 (below the 350 threshold which automatically placed me under ARV treatment, which started on April 26, 2010)

October 2010 - 479 (A 164-point jump)

May 2011 - 530 (A 51-point jump)

So I was delighted to learn that my CD4 count had increased further. Although the increase was lesser, I am satisfied with it but I wished it was higher. I guess my regular workout had helped my CD4 go up. I asked a fellow PLHIV how come the increase in my CD4 count was lesser this time, he said a PLHIV who is already accustomed to the ARV would usually have an incremental increase in his CD4 count in succeeding tests unlike in the past or from the time he started taking ARVs.

Three weeks from last Friday, I will ask for my viral load since it is usually available a year after a PLHIV's 1st CD4 count. Hopefully it would show that the virus in my system is already undetectable. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Missing the most important woman in my life

On the night of February 13, 2001, the eve of Valentine's Day and after months of suffering, my mother breathed her last in the room we both shared. We stayed in one room because I took it upon myself to take care of her after she became partly paralyzed almost a year before she died as a result of the tumor in her brain and then she became bedridden later on. I was reading a book on my bed when I heard her breathing become shallow and instinctively called out to my younger sister. I vividly remembered telling her "I think it's Mommy time already." My sister and I held our mother's hands and prayed. My sister told our Mom "to go in peace" so she won't suffer anymore and that we, her children and grandchildren, will be all right. And just as we finished praying, she passed away.

Despite the 10 years that have passed since my Mom died, I could still remember in clear detail what happened before and after that evening. And I miss my Mom, more so now after seeing my friends in a social networking site post pictures they have with their mothers as Mother's Day approaches.

In my head, I wondered if God took her already to spare her of the pain she would have felt if she knew about my HIV status.

I take comfort in the thought that my mother is watching over us in Heaven and praying for us as well. And soon, we will be together again.

Anger and sadness

Let me just get this off my chest first.

This morning, I opened my account in a social networking site and read a private message from a friend who informed me that I was mentioned in a post of a pozzie in his blog/journal/diary whatever-you-may-want-to-call-it so I looked for the journal based on the info provided by my friend. To my utter shock and dismay, I found out that the journal writer was someone I had a heated exchange in private sometime last February about a bad kind of advice he posted in the forum on HIV and Aids of Since I am more responsible that he is, I won't mention his name and the URL of his online journal at tumblr. com. Anyway, this pozzie posted a private conversation we had over at Yahoo messenger wherein I advised him to be more circumspect and careful when it comes to dishing out advice to other pozzies, especially to those who are newly-diagnosed. What the fuck!! And for what reason did he post what was supposed to be a private conversation?!

I immediately texted the erring pozzie and told him what I discovered and what I can possibly do against him for his post. His reply? "Easy easy. And cd4 mo. Delete ko na." Just that. The nerve! So I told him to think twice before posting anything that might incriminate someone. I checked his journal and the post is gone indeed.

To all poz bloggers out there, please be more careful about posting anything that might put someone, especially a fellow pozzie, in a bad light.

Anyway, going to another topic. I am saddened by the recent HIV-related deaths. I learned of three deaths in just a span of two weeks. The first one, a newly-diagnosed pozzie, died of an opportunistic infection (OI) in a hospital in the metro, the second one died in a treatment hub, and the third one died in his hometown of an OI as well. All three were in the prime of their lives when they passed away.

In the first case, I don't know if his parents knew about his status but it is presumed that his partner does. To make matters even bad after the demise of their son, the parents spent thousands of pesos for tests and the hospitalization.

As for the second case, the pozzie who is from somewhere in southern Philippines passed away in the treatment hub where he had been confined and only his partner was with him. The predicament faced by the partner of the deceased is that the parents of the pozzie didn't know about the status of their son or his death. So sad.

In the third case, a poz friend of mine called up me up last Sunday and informed me that his ex-boyfriend of 7 years had passed away in his hometown in southern Luzon due to HIV-related complications. His ex-partner had been in denial about his status and didn't undergo medical intervention.

Those were very sad news indeed. I hope they rest in peace and may God comfort and strengthen the loved ones they left behind.