HIV cases in the country are increasing. What aggravates the situation is the lack of awareness, knowledge, and education of people across different ages, SOGIEs, socioeconomic statuses, religions, education, and professions. This already unfortunate situation has worsened by misinformation, stigmatization, and discrimination, hindering people from accessing free and available HIV services in the country. Thankfully, the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (PETA) latest offering, Under My Skin, debunked most of these misconceptions, encouraging the people to take charge of their sexual health.
PETA’s Under My Skin is one of the most unique plays I have ever watched. I am impressed by playwright Rody Vera for his research input with all the nitty-gritty details about HIV. Vera must have gone through a lot of painstaking research on HIV – the current situation in the Philippines, the terminologies and jargons, and of course, the stories of the people. I love the transitions of the stories that depict the different modes of HIV transmission, and I am surprised by how stories were juxtaposed.
I understand that these researches aim to provide the audience with the most accurate information to widen their perspective of HIV as a public health concern. The people also need awareness, attention, and collaborative effort to lessen the burden of HIV to individuals and communities.
I was amazed by PETA’s delivery of the play, ‘Under My Skin.’ The drama was creatively and interactively staged. It can capture your attention, making you aware of your vital role against misinformation, stigmatization, and discrimination related to HIV. By watching the play, I also realized that HIV education could not only be done in a classroom, a clinic, or a hospital but also through artistic performances in theaters. Additionally, PETA also made sure that throughout the run of the play, free HIV screening is available on every show date. It has been full force on destigmatizing the false notions of HIV.
One of the highlights of the play is the importance of attaining an undetectable status. It made it easy to understand that a person living with HIV (PLHIV) can live a healthy and quality life. The concept of ‘Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U)’ was weaved seamlessly into the story. The play presented the U=U concept as a bucket of hope to every PLHIV, who is regularly taking an effective antiretroviral therapy to control their viral load at the lowest possible level.
When it comes to acting, I only have praises for the ensemble, who gave justice to their respective roles, particularly the principal cast. Honestly, everyone was able to leave a mark. Personally, I was moved by them. After the play, the audience also showed a lot of interest and appreciation for the story that was told. Even though it was my second time around watching the play, it still excited me, especially when I saw Cherry Pie Picache was there.
I was fortunate for the opportunity to represent LoveYourself, Inc., for the talkback right after the play. The audience gave their commendations. There were a lot of questions related to misconceptions about HIV transmission and living with HIV. Laws and policies regarding the rights of PLHIV were raised.
As an adult healthcare expert, the most challenging question asked of me was about maternal and child care related to HIV. A student asked about the timing and frequency of HIV testing for an infant who is born by a mother with HIV. The student also asked about measures to prevent mother-to-child transmission. I was able to provide clarity regarding mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and Anthony from HASH shed light on the management and medication for the mother with HIV. I was thrilled with the participation and engagement of the audience, which makes me feel confident that the play was able to heighten their awareness of HIV. Kudos to PETA, The Red Whistle, and The LoveYourself team for making Under My Skin such an enjoyable experience!
Still, much has to be done in HIV advocacy. I am proud to be a member of LoveYourself that passionately strives to offer services in the spectrum of HIV prevention and management. LoveYourself works so diligently to impart broader knowledge on HIV prevention, testing, and treatment, and to provide a unique sense of care to reach more people. The organization continuously reassesses its stand in responding to the booming epidemic of HIV in the Philippines to ensure that it offers relevant, efficient, effective, and population-based programs and interventions. Recently, the organization started providing Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) while also rendering education, assistance, and guidance to clients availing of the service to ensure its effectiveness. The organization is also proud of its partnerships, through its LoveYourself Caravan, that extensively promotes awareness to different schools, companies, and organizations like PETA.
Going back to the pivotal point of the play, I realized that everyone has a significant role to play to change the way HIV is viewed. As we have been constantly reminded of in LoveYourself, everyone can DARE to be oneself, CARE for oneself, and SHARE oneself as a way to multiplying joy in the community. Be that seed of love and truth that create transformative and responsible communities for the better. I’m sure that Under My Skin has one way or another planted a seed of hope to each of the spectators’ hearts that would surely grow further from our own skin.
Text and photos by Ryan De Torres