According to its founder, Ronivin “Vinn” Pagtakhan, LoveYourself, an HIV prevention advocacy, mainly encourages everyone to know their HIV status.
The organization’s communications team answered the following questions in line with World AIDS Day today, 1 December.
What was the initial objective when Love Yourself was created?
Its founder saw the need for Filipino social media users to have access to information on sexual health and the risks revolving around it, including highly stigmatized sexually transmitted infections like HIV. As a nurse-educator, Vinn used his online platform to freely teach his followers about sexual health and lifestyle. At the core of his advocacy is love, believing that it’s the most powerful infection that all people need in this endeavor.
Together with five of his friends who share the same passion for raising HIV and AIDS awareness, Vinn founded LoveYourself in 2011 after being recognized as an online health influencer. This bold move was aimed at addressing the exponential growth of cases of people living with HIV in the Philippines over the past decade.
Who are the main admins of the group?
Vinn Pagtakhan was joined soon after by Chris Lagman of the popular blog Manila Gay Guy, noted photographer Ian Alquiros, Von Arroyo, some of the Fabcasters, as well as a few other friends of theirs.
The organization is headed by Vinn and Chris plus other volunteers and staff who lead the various committees and programs of the organization.
What are some of the initiatives that LoveYourself has done to promote its HIV and AIDS prevention advocacy?
In LoveYourself, most of our efforts are on the day-to-day testing in our community centers in Metro Manila, namely: LoveYourself Anglo, LoveYourself Uni, Victoria by LoveYourself, LoveYourself Welcome, Lily by LoveYourself, and Hero by LoveYourself. We also have a center called LoveYourself White House with our chapter and volunteers in Cebu. We offer free HIV testing and testing for a few other STIs, and also offer trans health-related services at Victoria.
We bank on the mileage and reach of our social media communications and campaigns, thanks to the savvy of our volunteers as well as our partners. As volunteers are the very soul of the organization, we do also make sure to develop and train them on their counseling and leadership skills, plus the many other areas related to our advocacy. We also conduct internal events for the community to connect our shared interests, so we can send the message that we can discuss HIV and not have to be so afraid of it.
Along these lines, we are also always constantly trying to innovate our processes and approach to reach even more people.
Are your HIV tests free? Can everyone avail of it, regardless of orientation? Does one need to undergo a special preparation prior to taking the test?
HIV testing is free, thanks to government support, and is for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, and so on. The recent changes and additions to our laws on HIV have made testing even more accessible to people, especially to those who need it most, like our youth.
Our law also requires counseling to be provided with the test. This is something we have always put a focus on, since our volunteer counselors are also peers and from the same community as the clients.
We prepare clients by giving them HIV information as well as helping them assess their risk. Once they receive their results, we get them emotionally and mentally ready for the next steps in taking care of their health.
How is your organization sustained? Does LoveYourself rely solely on the generosity of anonymous supporters or does it have regular donors?
LoveYourself has been in partnership with RITM, Department of Health (DoH), World Health Organization, UNAIDS and Pilipinas Shell Foundation -— among other stakeholders —- in establishing itself as a community center for people getting tested and treated for HIV.
Since our accreditation as a Primary HIV Care Facility by the DoH, we have been able to sustain our routine services through payments made via PhilHealth. More recently, we’ve partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Global Fund (Save the Children Philippines and Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations), KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation and the corporate social responsibility arms of the private sector to further innovate our programs and services.
What can you say about HIV and AIDS situation in the Philippines now?
The latest statistics show that our situation here is constantly on the rise. Some scholars even compared this to the first outbreak in New York in the 1980s.
There are two things to consider why this is happening. One is the effectiveness of HIV testing campaigns: more people have come out and have had themselves tested with the presence of more HIV testing centers and clinics around the country. On this end, we are at least getting people through the door and availing of testing.
On the other hand, there are so many people unaware about testing, prevention, or even HIV in general. There are others who only get tested when they already have opportunistic infections or AIDS symptoms. There is still so much to be done for groups in the government, private and non-profit spheres to get people educated and tested, especially in key affected populations like males having sex with males, transgender women and the youth.
What challenges have you encountered in this advocacy?
We are mostly volunteers. It is, thus, so easy for us to burn out and lose our enthusiasm to serve in our advocacy. Some are able to constantly help out; others are not able to do so because they also have their own jobs and responsibilities to attend to. We regularly take in new volunteers to help sustain the cause, but also always provide venues and opportunities for people in our circle to practice self-care and sustain their drive for the advocacy.
For those who want to help your cause, where can they go and what number can they call?
We have a website, www.loveyourself.ph, where people can check our campaigns and latest updates. They can also volunteer by filling out the signup sheet on the website (look for the “I want to Volunteer” label at the rightmost side). They can choose to volunteer within the greater Manila area or in Metro Cebu. Online donations can also be done on the website through Paypal, bank deposits, checks and over the counter remittance; soon we will be launching our online merchandise.
Our social media accounts are as follows: Twitter (@LoveYourselfPh); Facebook (fb.com/loveyourself.ph); Instagram (@loveyourself.ph); and YouTube (youtube.com/loveyourselfinc).
For those who want to avail of free HIV testing, where can they go and what numbers can they call?
All our centers can be found on our website, loveyourself.ph, and have individual Facebook pages. People may just walk-in anytime during operating hours to get tested. Our centers are:
Address: Unit 5, 3rd Floor, Anglo Building, #715-A Shaw Boulevard, 1552 Mandaluyong City.
Wednesday to Saturday, 12 nn to 8 p.m. Sunday, 9 a.m to 2 p.m.
(02) 8256 9384
Address: 2028 Taft Avenue Extension (close to LRT-1 Gil Puyat on the northbound lane of Taft Avenue; on the 2nd floor of the same building as Mercury Drug Store), Pasay City
Wednesday to Saturday, 12 nn to 8 p.m. Sunday, 9 am to 2 p.m.
Victoria by LoveYourself
2nd Floor, Torres Building, Park Avenue, Pasay City
Saturday to Wednesday, 12 nn to 8 p.m.
858 Blumentritt Road cor. Remedios St., Sampaloc, Manila City.
Monday to Friday, 2 p.m to 10 p.m, Saturday, 9 a.m to 5 p.m.
LoveYourself White House
40 Don Julio Llorente St. (near Fuente Osmena Circle), Cebu City
Wednesday to Sunday, 12 nn to 8 p.m.
Lily by LoveYourself
5th Flr., Pineda Building, 98 Manalac Ave., Sitio de Asis, San Martin de Porres, Paranaque City.
Tuesday to Sunday, 12 nn to 9 p.m.
Hero by LoveYourself
(046) 8537 7549
E.M.A. Bldg. Unit 5, Aguinaldo Highway, Panapaan IV, Bacoor, Cavite
Tuesday to Saturday, 12 nn to 8 p.m.
What’s the one thing you advise Filipinos about HIV prevention?
Everyone has an HIV status. For you to know yours, get tested. Dare to be yourself. Actively care for yourself and others and share the happiness you feel within.