Everyone has talked about a particular status in his or her life, be it their relationship status, their financial status, and heck people talk about their problems on their Facebook status all the time! But one thing that’s rarely talked about is one’s HIV status. Despite its relevance today it is still greatly stigmatized and has been thought of as taboo by many. This monthly column aims to help facilitate discussion on issues surrounding HIV testing and living with HIV.

According to the HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines’ (HARP) January 2017 report, 27% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) are among 15 to 22 years old or the youth. This calls for proactivity among the youth to practice  safe sex and to get tested for HIV after three months of possible exposure.

Instead of an article about the youth and their sexual health, here is a piece about the youth from the perspective of their parents. But before we dwell into that, let’s talk more about the role of parents in their children’s sexual health, more specifically when HIV is involved.

It can be uncomfortable to talk about sex, especially with your child, but it doesn’t have to be. What parents can do is to establish an open communicative relationship about the topic, so their children do not feel ashamed to share their thoughts and feelings.

Parent to child communication

One common misconception about HIV is that you can only get it through engaging in sexual acts. Others don’t know that another mode of transmission is from mother to child during pregnancy or through breastfeeding. To discuss more about what parents’ role can be in talking to the youth about HIV, four mothers were asked about their views regarding the topic.

Three out of four parents interviewed lacked sufficient knowledge about HIV, its transmission, and treatment. Common responses when asked of what they knew about HIV included that it was “nakakamatay” (life threatening), and “nakukuha sa sex” (sexually transmitted). It is in being misinformed and in the taboo nature of the topics concerned that may very well be the reason a lot of today’s youth are pushed to engaging in risky behavior. Studies show that quality of communication influences the message young people today receive about sex.

After telling them what HIV is and that it can be transmitted from mother to child, the parents were asked about their thoughts on HIV. Then there it was, the genuine parental care and love for their children.

Hala, sobrang delikado pala ‘yan. Dapat sobrang maingat ka.” (Oh, it’s really dangerous. We should really be cautious.) “At hindi mo alam na may HIV ka kung di ka nagpapa-test? Wala pang nagpapa-test sa ’min niyan eh.” (And you won’t know it until you get tested? None of us have gotten tested yet.)

They were worried and wanted to know more. They did not hold back asking very specific questions about HIV and STIs. They asked about how to get tested, where to get tested, how long the test takes, what happens if you test reactive or nonreactive, how PLHIVs are getting taken care of, the stigma against PLHIVs, etc.

Mainly because they haven’t gotten tested themselves. One reached out for my hand and said, “Paano ba magpa-test? Akala ko kasi wala ako nun kasi di naman ako masakitin.” (How can we get tested? I thought I don’t have that since I don’t get sick easily.) Secondly because they are worried about their children. When asked about their child’s HIV status, they’re all pretty confident that their child is nonreactive to HIV. “Ay, wala pa ‘yan sigurado ako. Bantay-sarado ko ‘yan e.” (My child doesn’t have HIV, I’m sure of it. I watch over him all the time.) However, after finding out about parent to child transmission and other HIV-related information, they became silent. Mary (not her real name) promised to talk her 21-year-old son about what I just discussed!

When told about the HARP report and asked their thoughts about it, one said, “Malungkot, kasi gaya ko, wala akong masyadong alam diyan.” (It’s sad because, like me, I don’t know much about it.) One mom was taken aback, exclaiming, “Ay nako dapat bilisan nila yung paghahanap ng lunas diyan! Ang dami-dami nang nagkakaroon, wala pa ring solusyon! Dapat sa mga ganyan napupunta yung mga tax, para mapabilis ‘yung paghahanap ng panlaban.” (They should hurry up in finding the cure for that! A lot of people already have it, and there’s still no cure! People’s taxes should be spent on finding a cure.)

By the middle of the interview, after explaining all the basic information about HIV and self-care, one can sense the change in perspective. They saw HIV and sexual health as an important issue to tackle with their children.

When asked if they have ever talked to their children about sex in general, they all said no. The mothers I interviewed felt that their children were still too young or simply presumed that their children wouldn’t engage in sexual activities. One scary notion about parents not talking to their kids about these kinds of things is that it pushes kids to look for answers from other sources that might be unreliable. Ensuring that one’s child gets correct information from reliable sources affords no compromise. Talking to their children about this issue also gives parents the opportunity to provide children with the right counsel and act as role models.  Moreover, it has been proven that youths who have a more open communication about these kinds of things with their parents engage less in sexual activities.

With this, I asked them how parents should talk to their children about sexual health. Or to be more personal, how they would sit down and discuss this with their own children.

Though the interviews were held in different locations and different times, they all practically said the same thing: They need to do it soon.  They all see it as a matter of urgency. “It is frightening and we must tackle it soon.”

A Parent’s Experience Talking to their Child about HIV

Remember earlier when Mary promised to talk to her son about sex and HIV? She said she started by saying  they cannot afford being sick these days. She then proceeded to talk about HIV and how it can lead to death if not treated and managed properly. One good point she made was: “Hindi mo kailangang magpagamot kung hindi ka magkakasakit.” (You won’t need to get treated if you won’t get sick.)

Prevention is always better than cure. It’s as cliché as it sounds but that doesn’t make it less true. Do not be afraid to talk to your children about these kinds of things. They need guidance, and that guidance could be you.

One of the many things to be learned about the interviews is that the saying “what you don’t know won’t kill you” is extremely incorrect! These moms have learned about HIV and sexual health and now can guide  their kids.  

LoveYourself offers free and confidential HIV testing for everyone. It’s quick, it’s easy, and our friendly staff will assist you with anything you need to know about HIV and STIs. If you have more questions about getting tested, you can send a message on our Facebook page.

What you don’t know must make you ask questions and look for answers for it will surely save your life one way or another. This goes for parents, guardians, and everyone in between.

Text by Christian Watson Vergara