HIV awareness advocate Pia Wurtzbach slams PDEA, media; rallies behind LGBT community

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After calling on lowering the age of consent for HIV/AIDS testing, can Miss Universe 2015 and now UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador Pia Wurtzbach blaze the trail from pageantry to political commentary? Photo by JL JAVIER

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 29) — Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach expressed her dismay at the government and media for exposing a drug suspect's human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status.

"I understand that what the men were supposedly doing was illegal and they should face legal consequences. But there was absolutely no need to expose and publicly shame them," she said in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

She was referring to a media briefing on November 27 when Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Chief Superintendent Aaron Aquino disclosed an arrested drug suspect was HIV positive. The suspect was named by Aquino. Several local media organizations likewise published the identity of the person living with HIV.

Aquino also said the 11 suspects arrested were about to have a sex orgy in the Taguig hotel, which could mean the 10 others, whom he referred to as mostly homosexuals, were "most likely contaminated" by the person living with HIV.

Wurtzbach cited the Republic Act 8504, or Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, which states there should be confidentiality on the identity and status of persons living with HIV. The virus that could lead to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a potentially deadly condition if untreated.

"We're working so hard in educating the people properly on HIV/AIDS, on taking away the stigma. Because of what PDEA and the news outlets have done, some people are now associating drugs and immorality with being gay. It's ridiculous," she said.

She added PDEA should have focused on the alleged crimes the suspects committed, not their sexual preference and their HIV status.

"Their mugshots, names, and the HIV status of one of them were released. Was this really necessary? The whole point of this drug raid was to arrest the men for their supposed crime, which was selling/distributing and using illegal narcotics. Being gay is not a crime! Living with HIV is not a punishment! Come on, Philippines," she said.

The beauty queen urged PDEA and media outlets involved to "take steps to mend" the situation. She encouraged them to use their positions to spread HIV awareness.

"We are already taking small steps forward to improve acceptance, tolerance and understanding. We cannot take big steps back," she said.

Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-Ao, one of the authors of The Revised Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy and Program Act of 2012 in the House of Representatives, also expressed her dismay on Tuesday.

"Tama naman na sugpuin ang problema ng droga, pero naniniwala ako na walang kinalaman dito ang pagbubunyag ng HIV status ng isa sa mga nasasangkot... Ang punto ko ay simple lang: Huwag nating ipagpatuloy ang pagbibigay ng stigma sa pagkakaroon ng HIV," the lawmaker said on her Facebook page.

[Translation: There is no problem in solving the illegal problem, but I believe there was no need to divulge the HIV status of the suspect... My message is simple: Let us stop the HIV stigma.]

Netizens also slammed PDEA and news agencies.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) nabbed 11 drug suspects in a hotel in Taguig City on November 26. Shabu, ecstasy, and gamma butyrolactone (GBL) or liquid ecstasy worth P340,500 were seized.

No hate, Pia sends love to LGBT community

Wurtzbach, who bagged the Miss Universe 2015 title, reminded her fellow countrymen to stop the HIV stigma.

"Sa aking mga kababayan, wag po tayo maging judgmental. Hindi immoral ang maging bakla, hindi dapat ituring na kaparusahan ang HIV. At lalong hindi ito biro na dapat pag-pyestahan at pagtawanan," she said.

[Translation: To my fellow Filipinos, do not be judgmental. Being gay is not immoral, HIV is not a curse. Do not ridicule people living with HIV.]

Wutzbach, who was named Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)-Asia and the Pacific in May, showed her support for the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community.

"To my beloved LGBT community, stay strong. We'll win this," she said.

In the Philippines, some 44,000 HIV cases have been reported from January 1984 to May 2017. The Department of Health said the country is facing an alarming rise in HIV infections. About 81 percent of the 44,000 diagnosed cases were recorded in the last five and a half years.

The virus greatly affects the LGBT community, as unprotected sex between males accounts for over 80 percent of transmissions. Unprotected sex between heterosexuals follows at 12 percent. However, HIV is also commonly transmitted through infected needles and pregnancy.

Organizations like Love Yourself and The Red Whistle offer free and confidential HIV testing.