The Department of Health (DOH) is gearing up for a large-scale battle—one that aims to put a stop to the increasing number of individuals affected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

“The number of Filipinos affected by HIV and AIDS have drastically increased over the last couple of years,” shared DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III. “Just over the past decade, the average rate of new HIV cases in the Philippines has grown from one per day to 31 per day. And this figure does not include undocumented cases. We also currently have the highest percent of increase of new HIV cases in the Asia and Pacific region from 2010 to 2016, at 133%.”

“More than anyone else, we at DOH take this very seriously, that’s why we’ve decided to partner with people and organizations that will allow us to address the root cause of this growing epidemic,” he added.

Enter LHIVE FREE, a campaign created by the DOH and Integrative Competitive Intelligence Asia (ICI Asia). Using modern means to disseminate information about HIV and AIDS, as well as to promote safer sex, LHIVE FREE aims to make conversations about the virus a normal thing among today’s youth.

“We need to equip people with the right knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Often times, they are not open to talking about anything that has to do with the disease in general because they see it as something that’s very distant from them, when in fact, there’s a big chance that someone they know might already be infected by the virus—and there’s an even bigger chance that that person infected by the virus is not aware that he or she has it already,” Secretary Duque said.

As part of its initial wave of initiatives geared towards spreading information and debunking myths about the virus, the DOH launched LHIVE FREE REDVOCATES: The Search for 2018 HIV & AIDS Advocacy Ambassadors. A three-way pageant open to men, women and transwomen aged 20 and above, the search is the first among a series of activities that LHIVE FREE’s newest face, Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa, will be spearheading. The chosen ambassadors will lend their voices to communicate to the populations who are at risk to HIV and enabling organizations, and help DOH promote the HIV services available in the country.

Following the pageant, the DOH is planning to produce educational video materials that will be disseminated to schools, local institutions, targeted people’s organizations, and communities all over the country.

There will also be talks and seminars targeting support groups of People Living with HIV, including family members, friends, and other enabling organizations. The aim for this is to help create a safe and accepting environment for individuals with the virus, so they will not feel afraid to ask for help or feel condemned.

“We are bringing relevant and updated information to the people, and presenting it to them in a fun and easily understandable way. By doing this, we hope to erase fears, promote safe sex and provide a level of understanding that will open people to the idea of getting themselves tested regularly, and to seek for help, should they test positive of the virus. This is just the beginning. Like I mentioned before, we are taking HIV’s threat seriously and are looking at every possible means to make sure that we stop this virus in its tracks,” Secretary Duque ended.