This year’s Philippine International AIDS Candlelight Memorial (PIACM) tells us all that in this continuous fight against HIV, “U Matter.”

Among us, individuals and organizations have paved the way to make ripples of change and advance the HIV advocacy. Let us recall their stories and look into how their works and contributions have advanced, as we recognize the efforts of U as an Advocate.

Roberto Figuracion, Jr made exceptional efforts to spread awareness and take the HIV advocacy to schools and communities within Western Visayas. After being one of the first Ripple awardees in 2017, he represented the community in the 2018 Unitaid WHO UNAIDS Workshop on Building Capacity for the rollout of PrEP and HIV testing innovations in Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand. “This led to the eventual implementation of a project demonstration on HIV Self Screening in Iloilo that was completed in December 2020,” Roberto shared. “I am now sitting in the Technical Working Group to update the current HIV Testing Guidelines with my experience in HIV testing innovations in tow.”

This advancement greatly helped enhance the operations at Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP) Iloilo, and was a great deal of contribution when they finally opened the very first community-run HIV Primary Care Clinic in the region. “With the help from the Global Fund, the Department of Health CHD 6, UNICEF Philippines and the FPOP National Office, we opened the Rajah Community Center that offers one-stop-shop services,” said Roberto. “The center now offers a myriad of services covering the cascade of care for HIV, anchored on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Services, with a special lens on child protection and development.”

Rajah Community Center launches the iScreen HIV Home Kits.

For Roberto, 2020 presented both success and challenges. He admitted, “the pandemic challenged us to seek better ways to serve our community. It also led us to forge more meaningful partnerships with stakeholders that can help us achieve our goals for the betterment of the PLHIV community, the young key population and all the marginalized sectors we serve at FPOP Iloilo and the organizations and agencies I work with in Western Visayas.” In this, he saw opportunities to bridge the gaps, “in policy, (aligning ordinances to the RA 11166), services (capacity building of both health and non-health workers), demand generation(finding innovative ways to engage the key population) and the use of strategic information(utilizing data to affect change and influence decision makers).” 

To keep up with the limitations brought by the pandemic, Robert and his team heavily relied on telemedicine, combining online assistance and offline service delivery. “We promoted the use of mobile clinics and special deliveries in varying channels we can use, depending on the need and the resources available. This included test kits, ART and OI drugs, condoms and lubes, even PrEP, and sometimes food rations to our stranded or isolated clients.” On top of this advocacy, they also lent a hand in providing additional workforce to Iloilo City’s pool of contact tracers and Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs). “In that way, we also contributed to the response our beloved city has asked us to help.” 

The pandemic reminds us of the value of self love. 

Roberto Figuracion, Jr

In the middle of all these, Roberto gained a huge win when he presented at the virtual AIDS 2020 conference last July, where he shared the findings of their demonstration research on “Proxy Consent and Case Management of Adolescents Living with HIV (ALHIV): The case of Iloilo City, Philippines”. According to Roberto, “This led to the meaningful participation of FPOP Iloilo in the crafting of the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Playbook developed by the Department of Health. This model, with the imprimatur of FPOP Iloilo’s best practices included, will be replicated in more regions, LGUs and community-based organizations in the country.”

Roberto wants to remind everyone, especially the ones in the same community and advocacy, that in the heart of all that’s been done, and what’s continuously being done, is self-love. “We can only give as much as we have, so take very good care of yourselves. It also teaches us what really matters in our lives. And it is not for me to dictate upon, but for you to reflect on.”

Let’s continue to champion Roberto and advocates like him whose work and efforts are truly noteworthy. Join us at the online event at the PIACM and LoveYourself Inc.’s official Facebook pages on May 16, 2021, 4 PM.

Text by Ulysses Konstantin Largado
Photos courtesy of Roberto Figuracio, Jr