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3 Life Lessons I Learned From Someone Living with HIV

And these apply to everyone!
3 Life Lessons I Learned From Someone Living with HIV
IMAGE Isha Valles
And these apply to everyone!

It's World Aids Day today and MAC Cosmetics Philippines hosted a thanksgiving lunch to celebrate the work they have achieved with Positive Action Foundation Philippines, Inc. (PAFPI), an non-government organization that provides counseling and support for those who are HIV-positive, as well as for being able to raise enough funds (P2.1 million to be exact) to build a new H4 ward at San Lazaro Hospital in order to accommodate more patients.

"The Philippines is one of seven countries left that still has increasing rates of AIDS cases," shared Gay Lao-Chen, MAC Philippines' general manager. "Viva Glam really is the heart and soul of what MAC is all about. It started with the two founders, Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo." In response to how reports of how quickly AIDS was spreading in 1994, they established the MAC AIDS Fund to support various HIV/AIDS organizations. "The sad thing is people don't want to admit to having it or talk about it because of the stigma–they might lose their friends or in some sadder cases, lose their families," Gay adds.

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I found myself seated across Moses Ayuha who has been living with HIV for six years now. He was diagnosed 2011 and when he checked into San Lazaro hospital, he was suffering from pneumonia and tuberculosis. When he entered the ward, they were 17 patients. When he was well enough to leave, only three of them made it out alive. During his six months there, he prayed that if he was to be given a second chance, he would dedicate his life to helping others who also had HIV.

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IMAGE Isha Valles

Here are a few things I learned from my brief but enlightening conversation with him:

A positive attitude will prolong your life, and so will a good night's rest!

When asked how he has managed to stay healthy for the last six years–he has never been hospitalized since that first time–he said it was by choosing to be happy and staying positive. "Ayoko ng stress," he said definitively. It's hard considering his work as a counselor means he listens to the difficulties of others, but he said it's important to let go of those heavy emotions and focus on the positive. "I listen to music," he told me with a small smile when I asked what he does to stay happy. So simple! But he is also mindful of his health, following his doctor's orders to take his daily medicines at the required time and settling down to rest by 9pm, which is apparently when your immune system begins to regenerate for the day. 

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You can lead a normal, meaningful life even if you are HIV positive. 

"I eat whatever I want. I can drink liquor on occasion, but only after drinking my meds to make sure it doesn't affect the efficacy," Moses shared, proving that he still enjoys the same things the rest of us do. "The only time I remember that I am infected is when it's time to take my medicines in the morning and at night before bed. It's like taking your daily multivitamin." Keeping to his promise during his six months in the hospital ward, Moses finds fulfillment in his counseling work at PAFPI where he is able to help others who are also living with HIV process what they are going through. He has also made it his advocacy to promote awareness about HIV, and he works closely with MAC as they support the work PAFPI does. 

Be open, educate yourself. 

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Moses admits, "Being so open about having the disease has its drawbacks. There is still a stigma in the community." You could say that living with the disease–keeping to a healthy lifestyle and being diligent about taking your medicines–is much like dealing with a heart condition or an auto-immune disease. "The stigma lies in how HIV is contracted, that's what is frowned upon." Gay herself shared that when she first started working for MAC and with organizations like PAFPI, she also had to break the barriers of her previous misconceptions by learning more about HIV and the people living with it. Now, it's as much a personal mission for her to help increase awareness as it is a part of her job. 

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IMAGE Belle Rodolfo

Here are some fast facts about how your favorite Viva Glam lippie contributes to the MAC Aids Fund here in the Philippines:

1. To date, about P14 million has been contributed to PAFPI over the last six years. The NGO has a shelter in Dian St., Makati, and has been able to open a second one because of funding. Apart from counseling, PAFPI also cooks nutritious food that is brought to the patients in the H4 ward in San Lazaro hospital on Mondays and they also give out food at the center on Fridays. 

2. Medicines to treat HIV are given for free at San Lazaro Hospital but you must be a PhilHealth member. Every year, MAC supports 150 people by paying for their PhilHealth contributions so that they can avail of these free medicines. On top of that, they also help fund blood tests. 

3. For every Viva Glam lipstick sold, MAC is able to provide a person either a free rapid test for diagnosis or free meals for seven days.

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