Thousands of people, regardless of gender, have been infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the Philippines. According to the HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines, in 2017 alone there were 11,103 reported cases of HIV positive individuals. However with the steady increase of cases in recent months, the cases has yet to reach a plateau. This increase can be an indicator of people slowly taking courageous action towards knowing their status. Despite the many campaigns aimed at normalizing HIV testing, many are still hesitant because of misconceptions regarding HIV. Because of this, it has been a challenge for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) to disclose their status, and entrust their story. However, as a mother Elena Felix, ‘Nay Elena as people call her was able to receive overwhelming support from her family.
Like many parents who strive to support their family ‘Nay Elena, a mother of four, was an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). She was working in the Middle East back in the ‘90s to provide for her family. As a requirement to work abroad, she underwent a routine medical exam that she didn’t barely paid attention to. Little did she know that the result of her exam would drastically change her dream of sending off all of her children to school and end her marriage with a person she was faithful to.
Hinintay maubos lahat ng pasyente bago iabot sakin ng doktor. ‘Yung director pa mismo ‘yung nag-abot kaya kailangan daw ako kausap mismo pero wala namang counselling n’on. Sad to say, pagbukas ko siyempre ang pinaka-impact sakin ng result, “unfit to work”. Eh ready na ‘yung visa ko, ready na ‘yung ticket ko eh I really need to go back sa Dubai kaya ayun, ‘yun ‘yung pinakamabigat sakin para akong binagsakan ng langit at lupa. Nakaburol si Nanay tapos ganun pa ‘yung makukuhang result so nagmakawa ako sa doctor.”Elena “‘Nay Elena” Felix, HIV Advocate
At a time where HIV was talked about in hushed voices and muted discussions, she kept it in the sake of her children who are relying on her. Without proper counselling that is provided nowadays, she was left in the dark with what it meant to have HIV. Instead of thinking about herself, what she thought was her children and means of survival. In a desperate move to clear her positive status with the belief that the result was in err, she decided to go to another clinic where she was deemed negative. She was able to fly back to the Middle East later that year. However, results came back reactive when she underwent a mandatory medical exam. She was strongly advised to seek a medical institution that would care for her.
‘Nay Elena was forced to return in 1995. She was left untreated for 13 years, without any type of medical attention, and without any hope to live longer. She bore each day with the thought that her days were limited as her doctor told her.
Even when she has mustered all the courage to finally get checked and cured for her symptoms, nothing could prepare her for what happened to her. She was to undergo an operation to remove a myoma and was referred to a hospital. Her doctor advised her not to disclose her status for the process to go smoothly. At the last minute, when she mentally prepared herself, took a leave from work, and borrowed money just to get the procedure done, the doctor, without her permission, disclosed her status. The hospital told her that there were no doctors to operate on her when, in fact, the doctors backed out. However heartbroken she was, she did not lose hope.
Ang problema sa ward – pinagsigawan, ‘Ito ‘yung may AIDS’. ‘Yung mga ooperahan na kasabay ko binibihisan ng maayos, ako pinaghubad sabay sipa ng damit ko at tinapon sa basurahan. Just because of HIV, pinandirihan ako ng mga tao. May nakalagay sa kama ko ‘Universal Precaution’. ‘Yung mga nakarinig, diring-diri, ayaw akong tignan. Ayaw dumaan sa space ko. Nandiyan na yung tagalinis pero bibigay sa ‘kin yung walis. Ako ang pinaglilinis. ‘Yung nagdadala ng pagkain ipapalipat pa yung pagkain sa sarili naming gamit.
A mother, no matter what she is going through, always thinks about her children before herself. When she first found out about her status her first thoughts were her job and her means of supporting for her family particularly the education she wasn’t able to get herself. She had four mouths to feed and she was the only person she can count on.
‘Yung kinikita ko ng tatlong buwan dito, kikitain ko doon ng isang buwan. Kaso just because of HIV, inalisan na ‘ko ng karapatan magtrabaho. ‘Yung pangarap naming makapatapos ng 4-year course, lahat naman sila 4 years ang gusto nila. Syempre kung di ko naabot ‘yung kolehiyo, at least, sila man lang. Ang naging pakiusap ko nalang just because ganito na si nanay kung pwede 2-year course nalang at kailangan ko talaga ng tulong nila. Hirap kami sa buhay. Namamasukan ako tapos sa gabi may iba pa akong gingawa.
She never lost hope knowing that her family is behind her and despite the discrimination and injustice, her family became her rock. They kept her from breaking apart. ‘Nay Elena clung unto her family’s love and support to make everything bearable from the discrimination to her advocacy. There was a time when she was scared to touch them in fear of infecting them, but this changed when her son handed her her first grandson and told her that the baby won’t get it virus with a kiss or a hug. This feeling put her at ease. In a time where HIV was synonymous to death, her children became her source of information. Their unwavering love enabled ‘Nay Elena to live with the family with no fear of being discriminated against. When many tend to reject PLHIV because of their misconceptions on how it’s passed on to other people, her family never thought twice to still kiss and hug her.
Ang panganay ko ‘yung nag-e-educate. Parang ang pakiusap ko lang na wag nila akong itrato na may sakit. Basta enjoy nalang natin habang buhay ako kasi sooner or later mamamatay din si nanay.
‘Nay Elena’s granddaughter, Nida, is ready to rally behind her. “Pinandidirihan siya, sinabi ‘nanay mo HIV oh, yuck’, ganyan. Syempre sinasabi ko hindi ganito o ganyan ‘yung HIV tapos ine-educate ko sila kung ano ba ‘yung tamang information tungkol sa HIV hindi ‘yung kung anu-ano lang. Hindi naman walang dahilan para magalit. Ang kailangan, sabihin mo ‘yung tama kasi kung magagalit ka walang mangyayari.”
‘Nay Elena understands the feeling of being isolated – the feeling that no one understands what you’re going through. So, she’s been passionately advocating about the rights a PLHIV has and should have that has been long due.
Nu’ng kasali na ako sa mga support groups, nalaman ko ‘yung ACHIEVE. ‘Yan ‘yung maraming trainings. Dito ko natutunan ‘yung stigma and discrimination. Ang nangyari pala sa ‘kin ay self-stigma. Ang ginawa ng ospital ay discrimination. Malinaw ‘yun, violation against human rights. Doon ko din natutunan ang basic human rights. Doon ko din nakilala si RA 8504. Lumalaki na din mga apo ko at lumalabas labas na ako at baka makilala ako ng mga kaklase ng mga apo ko. Kung ano narinig man nila ‘yun ang totoo. Kailangan malaman ng bawat isa ang status nila. Ang high risk pa rin ay kababaihan dahil kami ay receivers. Ang karapatan ng PLHIV ay mahabang panahon nang napabayaan at binalewala. Hindi nabibigay ang nakasaad sa batas.”
Her life shows images of footprints of society, scarred by her battle with HIV that started from the time where HIV was considered a death sentence. We cannot deny that HIV is now part of our community. Without a cure yet, people adhere to treatment to live normally. For now we cannot change one’s positive status, however we can change how we view people living with HIV. As ‘Nay Elena proves, she is more than her status.
This is the story of ‘Nay Elena – a PLHIV, a woman, a Ripple Awardee, and on top of everything, a mother.
Text by Dun King