The Manuel Quezon Memorial Shrine in Quezon City will become a guiding light of sorts tonight as the city plays host to the world’s first “AIDS Hour,” the main event of the Philippine AIDS Candlelight Memorial (PACM) headed by the Department of Health (DOH).
The event is part of the DOH drive to erase social stigma against people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS.
From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., all the lights will be switched off at the Liwasang Aurora of the Quezon Memorial Circle save for the ones illuminating the shrine, making it look like a huge candle shining in the darkness, Ico Rodulfo Johnson, president of the Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation Inc. said at a press conference in Manila on Friday.
The foundation is organizing the PACM together with the DOH.
Health Secretary Janette Garin encouraged others who can’t make it to the event to join those in attendance by lighting their own candles, wherever they are, to express their solidarity with people living with HIV/AIDS.
Johnson said his foundation is planning to make AIDS Hour an annual event.
Aside from the candle-lighting ceremony, Johnson said a nationwide photo contest will also be held during AIDS Hour.
He encouraged participants to take photos of the event or of their own candle-lighting ceremonies from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and upload them on Facebook with the hashtag #AIDSHour2016.
These photos will then be flashed in real-time on a LED screen at Quezon Memorial Circle.
The top three winners of the photo contest will each receive P30,000, P20,000 and P15,000 as prizes, Johnson said.
The photos must be original and should contain the candle-lighting concept of the PACM, he said.
Recently, Garin disclosed that there have been more recorded cases of HIV/AIDS because more people are having themselves tested.
Don’t add to the stigma
“For the past year, we have been very aggressive with our ‘Know Your Status’ campaign. It’s easier to identify them now because they know where to go for testing, [but] if you trace their history, the possible transmission happened four, five years ago,” said Garin.
She said the DOH has 40 HIV testing centers nationwide but refused to disclose their exact locations “because it adds to the stigma.”
Instead, Garin advised those who think they need to be tested to call the DOH HIV/AIDS hotline (tel. 6517800 loc. 2550; mobile 0928-9086288/0977-1312046/0915-4273407).
“Just let them know who and where you are, so you can be led to the nearest facility,” she said.