First-ever Philippine National HIV Prevention Month battles out two pandemics for a #SaferNowPH

By September 24, 2020 Newsroom, Prevention, Regional

The #HotDoctors and #HotNurses of Pinas are in the frontlines in promoting HIV combination prevention during the National HIV Prevention Month celebration (Layout by Edgar Bagasol).

Bet Domingo
, LoveYourself, Inc., Philippines

The Philippines’ #SaferNowPH campaign started from a blank slate but with the fresh concept of HIV combination prevention in mind—condoms & lube, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP & PEP) and Treatment-as-Prevention (TasP). The team behind it needed substantial data to create a sound campaign strategy especially in the face of the COVID pandemic.

At the frontline of this battle are SKPA Philippines and the Champion Community Centers, with LoveYourself, Inc. as the implementing organization, together with major supporters—The Global Fund, AFAO, APCOM, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, UNAIDS Philippines, WHO Philippines, Pilipinas Shell Foundation, and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations—brand partners, sponsors, and community allies across the country; not to mention ten ‘#HotDoctors’ and ‘#HotNurses of Pinas’ who willingly lent themselves to become the face of the campaign.

Gearing up to beat HIV amidst COVID-19

In April, the team commenced data gathering that lasted for two months, using an online survey and key informant interviews. Crunching and analyzing data became the breakfast for John Oliver Corciega and Edgar Bagasol Jr. of SKPA Philippines, Diego Rozul and Kurt Silvano of LoveYourself, Inc., and Raybert Domingo, the social marketing consultant. The grueling formative assessments served as blueprint for what was to be a COVID-responsive integrated marketing communications plan for the campaign.

It was at 12:30 AM on July 5, as Domingo and Silvano were firing ideas against each other in the dim-lit reception area of LoveYourself Anglo, that the concept of the first-ever community-led National HIV Prevention Month (NHPM) was born. #SaferNowPH would be the pioneering theme, to encapsulate the four components of HIV combination prevention in one impactful and sustainable campaign messaging.

Winning every mission through collaboration

Billy Joe Peralta bagged the grand prize for the #ShootTheRubberPH photography contest. He captioned his photo entry: “We can’t change people, but we can plant seeds that may one day bloom in them. So let us plant in our minds to practice safe sex with the use of condoms and lubricants. With this seed that we have planted, we will grow a community that is safe from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”

The NHPM 2020 #SaferNowPH campaign was mainly digital as COVID-related community restrictions remain in place. With a huge task ahead for health promotion, the team took advantage of collaboration to achieve a set of missions.

The team’s first mission was to create a brand guide for the campaign and ensure a captive audience by increasing people’s engagement on social media platforms ahead of the digital launch on July 31. Media-events partners Owl Right Studios and Spaces MNL managed to deliver the requirements in time.

The kick-off of the NHPM 2020 #SaferNowPH campaign was an online confluence of different institutions, organizations, and community advocates, discussing the importance of promoting HIV combination prevention. UNAIDS Philippines Country Director Dr. Louie Ocampo emphasized the need to scale up the HIV combination prevention efforts to mitigate the spread of new HIV infections. “Preventing infection is central to ending the AIDS epidemic,” Ocampo said.

A series of online campaign activities followed, focusing on each HIV combination prevention method. On August 8, community allies backed up the importance of correct and consistent use of condoms & lube in an online talk. One of the event’s highlights was the awarding of winners for the #ShootTheRubberPH photography contest.

Billy Joe Peralta, the first placer, likened the practice of using condoms & lube to a seed that blooms, ensuring protection against HIV during sex. “With this seed that we have planted, we will grow a community that is safe from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” Peralta captioned his winning photo.

In the following week, the team waved the banner for a free PrEP contest, which gained particular online traction on Twitter. Together with two HIV physicians and experts from partner organizations WHO, Manila Doctors Hospital and the Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines, the team then conducted a webinar differentiating PrEP vs. PEP on August 15.

Over 30 free PrEP winners announced during the event successfully enrolled in LoveYourself’s PrEP Pilipinas program for added protection against HIV. In his challenge entry, one of the winners Mark Veloso said, “With this easy, safe, and effective way to protect yourself [against HIV], PrEP is the next best weapon you will have against another epidemic our country is facing.”

Meanwhile, hearts fluttered as the importance of HIV treatment and the concept of Undetectable = Unstransmittable (U=U) were given a spotlight during an online dating show held on August 22. Leading up to the last mission culminating the NHPM on August 29, a free online screening of PLHIV-themed short films from CineSpectra 2019 and Elisa Richards was also held from August 26 until September 1.

During and following the successful run of the first NHPM, community-based organizations across the country plotted localized activities and campaigns in support of the #SaferNowPH campaign. Through vlogs, talk shows, and physical community engagement activities, HIV advocates on a national scale showed their passion for educating and raising awareness about HIV combination prevention.

The team, however, did not stop at winning these missions alone. The battle continues to sustain the tactics set in place.

Firing up the HIV battle with heart and innovation

Watch video here.

Focusing the battle against HIV on digital platforms, the NHPM social media accounts’ following grew from zero to nearly 4,000 on Facebook and 2,000 on Twitter. Combined online reach and engagements on all platforms, meanwhile, extended to over 100,000 netizens.

Social media activities of the NHPM 2020 – #SaferNowPH campaign direct audiences to another key campaign advancement—the use of a chatbot system ( developed by social media specialist, Paul Junio. Housed in the SafeSpaces PH Facebook page, the system provides interactive responses to inquiring clients, guiding them to HIV prevention methods appropriate to them based on their answers to a set of questions, and leading them to facilities that provide these methods.

These engagements are a great start to further the cause against the twin HIV and COVID pandemics. Despite the challenges threatening the delivery of HIV services amid the continuing COVID pandemic, LoveYourself Founder and Executive Director Ronivin Pagtakhan chooses to look at the brighter side of things, encouraging advocates to continue envisioning and innovating for the benefit of the HIV community and the larger society. “Our community survives and celebrates our wins because we care and look out for each other. We adapt and respond to challenges. And we learn from one another as we all advance for the better,” Pagtakhan shared.

The #SaferNowPH campaign will remain active through to the World AIDS Day 2020 and International AIDS Candlelight Memorial 2021, among other relevant celebrations, to ensure a #SaferNowPH year-round.

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