Growing up with HIV in the Philippines

The Philippines has the fast-growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific. Mae (not her real name) is a 13-year-old girl from Valenzuela City who was born with HIV. She is currently a student and recently started her first year of high-school. UNAIDS spoke to her about her experience.

philippines2(The views and opinions expressed in interviews or commentaries are those of the interviewees and contributors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of UNAIDS)

UNAIDS: What is your everyday life like?

Mae: I wake up, have breakfast, then I go to school. In school, it’s a bit hard. We have a lot of subjects, we read a lot and we do a lot of projects. I enjoy MAPEH (Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health) the most, but I don’t like Math and English. During my free time I play badminton. I enjoy it but I don’t always win. I also watch TV especially cartoons like “Sofia the First” I also read a lot of fairy tales, “Snow White” “Cinderella” and even “Harry Potter”. When I’m at home I have to do chores like washing the dishes, sweeping the floors. I don’t like that.

UNAIDS: How did you find out you were living with HIV?

Mae: I was ten years old when they told me. My mother and aunt were the ones who told me. They talked to me about HIV and they said that I have it. They’re the only ones who know, no one else knows, not even my best friend or cousins. They said there are things I can’t do like drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. I also have to drink my medicine every day. When I was younger I had to drink a syrup, it tasted bitter but now I’m taking a tablet. It’s a small tablet and I take one every morning and one every evening. Sometimes when my cousins see me taking my medicine, I just say I’m taking vitamins. I also have to visit the doctor every three months.

UNAIDS: Do you have friends who were also born with HIV?

Mae: Yes, we have group where we meet. There’s around ten of us and we meet in Rizal, at a recreational place. Some children are just 8 years old, the oldest in our group is 16 years old. All of them know that they have HIV. We just talk about different things but we don’t talk about our status that much, only positive things like food mostly.

We sometimes see each other during events or retreats as well. I attended a retreat last month because our priest invited us. When I was there I saw a man crying because he just found out that he has HIV. He was still holding his result paper. He said he was thirty. I told him that I had HIV since birth and I just take my medicine then I’m fine. I said “Don’t worry, we can do this. It’s not the end of the world”. He said he was glad to have met me, and he gave me a hug.

I meet people like him, every time I go for a checkup in the clinic. They get so shocked when they find out about me, they say I’m just a kid.

UNAIDS: What do you want young people to know about people living with HIV?

Mae: To not be afraid. They should teach about these things in schools, children have to know about this. Even as young as 6th grade. They should teach what HIV is about, how it is spread. Some people think wrong things about it, like going near someone with HIV makes you sick or that there is no treatment for it. That’s not true

UNAIDS: What do you know about “female empowerment”?

Mae: Girl Power – where girls are empowered in the community. That girls can do what boys can do. There can be girl presidents and girl police, and even my doctors are girls.

UNAIDS: Do you have any female role models?

Mae: “Kim Chui” because she’s pretty and she seems nice. My mother because she’s good to me, she’s understanding, she helps me in my school. I have cousins who I look up to because they’re so smart, especially in math. Also, my aunt who knows about my status, because she’s very good to me.

UNAIDS: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Mae: I want to be a manager or maybe a supervisor in an office. Not in a bank though because I don’t like math. Maybe in a travel agency because I also want to travel a lot like my mom did, like to Japan or Singapore or Canada.

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