Beauty and the fight against HIV
When Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach said she wanted to raise HIV awareness in the Philippines, I felt like I won P100 million in a lottery. Indeed, as I posted on Facebook, “Beauty and HIV go hand in hand.”
Our country is one of the few countries in the world with a rising HIV incidence. The major mode of transmission of HIV in the Philippines is sexual contact. Most people who get HIV may have an unconscious desire to validate their beauty by the number of sexual partners they attract. On the other hand, beauty is a powerful tool to prevent HIV from spreading.
A lot of countries whose HIV rates have stabilized have used beauty in their campaign against the infection. In Singapore, posters about sexually transmitted infections and HIV are colorful and nonthreatening, unlike the commonly black-and-red gloomy posters we see here in the Philippines. Beautiful celebrities abroad have appeared in HIV campaigns to educate people, not to scare them. Scaring people through gory images and distressing messages creates more stigma. The more there is stigma, the more it is harder to educate and convince people to avail themselves of health services such as HIV testing. On the other hand, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds can relate to beauty. That’s why when appropriately used, beauty can be a powerful tool in public health. Wurtzbach can be the perfect personification of this beauty.
We health workers badly need Miss Universe’s help. We need someone to highlight the importance of HIV prevention, an aspect of the HIV program that has not been given too much attention in the Philippines. While government and many NGOs already support HIV detection and treatment, very few focus on the value of preventive education and communication, which Wurtzbach has identified as an integral part of nation building.
Wurtzbach assured she will use her voice for timely and relevant causes. HIV is one timely and relevant issue because no one is effectively talking to our people as to how they can avoid acquiring the virus. But with Wurtzbach championing the fight against HIV, the chance to stop this epidemic becomes more of a reality than a dream.
Moreover, speaking up not only about HIV testing and treatment but also about ways to prevent getting the virus will also help prevent the spread of other sexually transmitted infections. STD infections can cause infertility, chronic pain, birth defects and cancer. So please, Miss Universe, do not forget to mention HIV prevention strategies when you talk about HIV testing and treatment. The old saying about an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure is still true to this day.
Our country also needs someone who will inspire all organizations to work together. I am sure with Wurtzbach’s call, accompanied by her disarming smile and charm, she can help unite entities, public and private, to work as one toward putting an end to HIV/AIDS in the Philippines and, maybe, even in the world. With Wurtzbach’s beauty and desire to be socially relevant, government and sociocivic organizations will have the chance to finally relay to the public important HIV prevention messages that they have failed to effectively deliver for decades to the masses.
She may not have realized it, but Wurtzbach has started a new era for the HIV program in the Philippines. Now, more Filipinos are aware that HIV is not a myth in our country. It is here and it is claiming young lives and destroying families. We cannot let this go on and affect productive members of our society, otherwise our economy will not be able to sustain giving free antiretrovirals and services when HIV cases reach into millions. In addition, our health-care facilities will be overwhelmed.
But I can imagine the millions of teens and young adults who will not need special medical care because they will follow Wurtzbach when she teaches them the values of self-respect, responsibility, monogamy, and consistent and correct condom use. At this time, she is the best person to bridge the gap in the education of our youth. People will listen to her because she is a genuine example of someone who has discipline and determination. Everyone knows her story. She has in her hands the power to help save our country from a health and economic disaster.
I will constantly pray for Wurtzbach’s safety as she fulfills her duties as Miss Universe. I and my fellow advocates will support her. There will be more obstacles but we are with her in her meaningful journey toward beauty and relevance.
—WINLOVE P. MOJICA, MD, [email protected]
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