#SaferNowPH HIV Testing Day pushes through on December 12, 2020 overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with Gaya sa Pelikula star Paolo Pangilingan and the cast of Gotchu Fam, the Champion Community Centers highlight three ways one can get tested for HIV while minimizing risk for COVID-19 infection – facility-based testing, community-based screening, and self-testing.

Get tested inside a facility

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, everyone can still take charge of their sexual health by getting tested for HIV in nearby community centers and social hygiene clinics with the use of their appointment system.

In Pampanga YCAP and LAKAN community center intensified the promotion of the testing campaign on-the-ground. In time for the World AIDS Day celebration on December 1 and their 1st anniversary, On December 12 booths were set up outside the facility  to accommodate more clients. Testing clients were also given educational materials on HIV and PrEP, as well as free condoms and lubricants. 

LAKAN Community Center, meanwhile, took the campaign online by posting materials encouraging people to get tested and access other HIV services in their community center. They have also published directory facilities where people can access HIV services. These activities coincided with the Central Luzon Regional HIV Testing Month led by the Department of Health Regional Office.

Due to the pandemic, most community centers operate on an appointment basis to control the number of people inside the facility at all times. This is also to ensure proper physical distancing among staff and other clients who avail the services of each of the centers. Clients may check each community center’s Facebook page for their respective online appointment procedures. 

Community-based screening (CBS) is another option

Following COVID-19 safety protocols, clients may set an appointment with a CBS motivator to conduct the HIV screening wherever they feel safe and comfortable. CBS is done to cater clients who are not comfortable getting tested inside a clinic/community center. 

Along with the other testing modalities that they offer, volunteers and staff in Rajah Community Center and kNOwTELL Wellness Lounge stepped up their CBS operations during the HIV testing day. From December 10-12, they conducted physical and online community outreach in Iloilo, reaching over 80 clients, only through this testing modality.

On the other, DIOSSA conducted a full-day outreach activity in Muntinlupa City during the testing day. They facilitated discussions on HIV, SOGIE, and the HIV Policy Act with the 30 residents who attended their outreach activity and conducted CBS operations thereafter. 

For clients who want to access CBS services, they may contact nearby community centers and social hygiene clinics to set an appointment. Please consider and practice COVID-19 safety measures in setting CBS appointments and during the process, respectively. 

Know your status with self-testing

HIV testing has now been made more convenient for clients. When people are confined in their own homes or struggle to access FBT due to travel restrictions, LoveYourself thought that an HIV self-screening service would be the best option to ensure testing continuity. Hence last March 2020, the organization launched “SelfCare,” the first HIV self-screening program in the country. Through this program, clients can now access an HIV-screening kit, along with an instructional and counseling guide, and conduct the testing themselves at their own convenience. 

Promotion of the program was heightened during the #SaferNowPH HIV Testing Day. LoveYourself mobilized ambassadors to promote the program, including BL artist Paolo Pangilinan and the cast of GotChuFam BL sitcom. Its seven community centers, including LoveYourself WhiteHouse in Cebu, are offering SelfCare at an affordable price. Interested clients may send a message to https://m.me/SelfCare2S and to purchase a SelfCare kit. 

With the same strategy and goal, the Rajah Community Center is also offering “IScreen,” an HIV self-screening program supported by the Department of Health and World Health Organization. Implemented as a demonstration study, the IScreen program began rolling out last March this year. Persons interested to do self-screening only need to register in the IScreen’s online portal: tinyurl.com/iScreen2020. 

Testing is Prevention

Regular monitoring of one’s status is also one way of preventing oneself from acquiring HIV and passing on the virus to other people. With this in mind, the Champion Community Centers campaigned the three types of HIV testing processes, along with HIV combination prevention methods, including condoms and lubricants, PrEP, PEP, and adherence to treatment. 

In their testing procedures, particularly for those who tested non-reactive to HIV, they made sure that clients are sufficiently educated about the HIV preventive methods. Information on the methods are also incorporated in the campaign materials that they distributed during the testing day. Condoms and lubes are also always available in all community centers and are attached to HIV screening kits during distribution. 

Clients who were tested reactive to HIV meanwhile were immediately linked to treatment and were educated about the concept of treatment as prevention. By encouraging people living with HIV to adhere to their treatment, they may be able to achieve undetectable status, which means they can no longer transmit the virus to other people. This concept is also known as undetectable = unstramsittable (U=U). Know more about these methods and concepts by following the SaferNow Philippines Facebook page (attach link).

Overall, the #SaferNowPH testing day was another feat for the Champion Community Centers. It did not only increase their testing reach this year, but have also increased people’s awareness on options where and how one can get tested for HIV, especially on the relatively new testing modality, HIV self-screening. The influence of Paolo Pangilinan, the GotchuFam cast, and other influences was a big help in achieving this goal. 

The #SaferNowPH campaign was initiated by LoveYourself through SKPA Philippines. SKPA Philippines works hand-in-hand with the Champion Community Centers to target and reach key populations to HIV in different regions in the country.