Press Release | 26 February 2023

The Department of Health (DOH) through its Healthy Pilipinas campaign  commemorated its partnership with the “FREE TO BE U” campaign through the Festival of Luv promoting healthy behaviors to protect Filipinos from the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and AIDS at a Pop-Up in Katipunan, Quezon City.

People living with HIV (PLHIV) need accessible and regular HIV preventive and treatment services to ensure that they live a healthy life by being “U Equals U” or Undetectable Equals Untransmittable. To date, the Philippines still has one of the fastest rising numbers of HIV cases in the Asia Pacific region. As of November 2022, epidemiology data shows that there is an average of (42) HIV cases per day in the country.

The Festival of Luv aims to make health literacy fun and sexy, and aims to feature a mix of fun and informative activities through concessionaire setups and performances from the winners of Drag Den and Drag Race Philippines. The local government of Quezon City likewise provided HIV testing, counseling for HIV, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Similarly, a forum was also held by medical experts, advocates, and key resource persons who shared the latest updates, efforts, and pieces of advice to control the HIV epidemic in the country as well as for their journey towards being U Equals U.

“We are thankful to the DOH for showing their strong support for PLHIV by partnering with the FREE TO BE U campaign during this event. The inclusion of Free to Be U in DOH’s comprehensive health education campaign Healthy Pilipinas is a major milestone that brings the country closer to the global goal of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030,” said Teresita Marie Bagasao, Project Director of EpiC Philippines.

The “FREE TO BE U” campaign, which was launched by EpiC Philippines in 2022, seeks to empower PLHIV to break free from labels and be free to enjoy life and love by providing information about available HIV prevention and treatment services, building up safe spaces and communities, and working with organizations and advocates from the PLHIV community in order to reduce stigma and promote free HIV services. EpiC Philippines, as part of a global project dedicated to achieving HIV epidemic control, is supported by the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the United States Agency for International Development.

“With this campaign partnership we call #FreeToBeU para sa isang #HealthyPilipinas, we hope to reach more members of the PLHIV community and those who may need protection from contracting the virus, and provide them with the necessary education and resources to lead healthy and full lives,” Bagasao shared. “The DOH is an essential partner in our efforts to strengthen HIV service delivery in the country, which includes distributing the United States-donated HIV preventive 3 drugs PrEP and HIV viral load cartridges to the various government and community facilities throughout the country.” she added

“FREE TO BE U” is also part of the Healthy Pilipinas campaign which focuses on the seven priority areas of the Health Promotion Framework Strategy that includes sexual and reproductive health. Thanks to this partnership, we can encourage others by sharing the stories of people who have accessed free HIV services — services that empower them to live free from fear, free from stigma, and free to be themselves. Sa kampanyang ito, sama sama nating sabihin sa lahat na ikaw ay ‘FREE TO BE U para sa isang Healthy Pilipinas!’ said Dir. Rodley Desmond Carza of the DOH Health Promotion Bureau

“We must all work together not just to implement our strategies and interventions, but to ensure that our PLHIVs and other key populations–are able to access HIV services without difficulty or stigma. Beyond this, we must join our efforts to address the systemic and socioeconomic barriers that prevent our fellow Filipinos from leading healthy, productive lives free from the impacts of HIV — Only through collective action will we be able to end the HIV epidemic in the country,” expressed DOH Officer-In-Charge Dr. Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire.

For more information about the “Free TO BE U” Campaign visit our socials at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @FreeToBeUPH.