A community center has opened for those who want to protect themselves against the Human
Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The Balai Marvi Community Center, run by LoveYourself Incorporated gives needed medical support for those seek to prevent, breaking barriers of stigma and serves as a refuge. Hub Manager, Darwin Chong says the need to set up a center in Baguio was brought about by a spike in testing from northern residents who said there are no facilities available in their areas for proper HIV tests and preventive treatments.

“Gawa siguro ng culture ng hiya, madami ang nagpapa test sa Manila from the North, we advocate to know your status, we encourage testing” Chong relayed The center, located at Lopez Building, room 303, Session Road, Baguio City is open from Wednesday-Sunday from 12:00 NN – 7:00 PM and is and overseen by Chong and nurse Danica Mae Miro who provides and oversees HIV testing as well as dispenses preventive pills for those in need.

Chong explains Baklai Marvi offers a HIV self-test kit, ‘SelfCare,” and the HIV preventive pills, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill taken by an HIV-negative person to protect themselves against the virus, the center also is open to passers-by can gain access to free condoms and lubricant. Chong says when clients test positive for HIV, a referral is made for confirmatory tests
at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Baguio City Health Services Office and Notre Dame Hospital. If the client tests negative, the PrEP is recommended to be used, free of charge.

“This is how to stay negative,” Chong said, adding the center administers a minimum of 4 tests and a maximum of 12 tests in a day, signaling a more responsive community aware of the need to be tested. There is dedicated pool of volunteers Balai Marvi welcomes, often to help with clients who walk in, giving pamphlets, talking to clients in between waiting, thanking those who have responded to the call for community service. Chong has dedicated his life to the advocacy of HIV
prevention, coming from a troubled past of drug use and promiscuity, who sought treatment for HIV in 2016 and now has an undetected and untransmittable viral load.

Chong has experienced the highs and lows of drug use, rejection from the family, HIV treatment “I did not go through proper counselling and there was no proper care, I was lost, when I was in the hospital, there was a person who shared the gospel to me,” and there started the treatment and the healing in 2017. As of August 2022, there were 544 HIV active cases recorded in Baguio City alone,
a sharp rise from 122 active cases recorded in the first quarter, for the Cordillera region there were 883 active HIV cases recorded as of September of the same year.

Balay Marvi was named partner, Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI), Deputy Executive Director
Marvi Trudeau, who is one in the advocacy of HIV prevention and is the first hub in the Cordillera region and Baguio City. Chong relayed “I startedto train to become a certified HIV counselor and I became active in the Christ Commission Fellowship, I started to share my story to a lot of groups.”
Chong has since turned to religion to pacify his demons and now treats his advocacy as a ministry, hoping that many find peace and health like he did but being careful not to force his religious beliefs to those who go to the hub.

Chong bares the effects of his late detection of his infection and lack of treatment and counselling he experienced which he hopes does not happen to those seeking preventive treatment. “I am now blind in one eye and have hearing loss,” adding late treatment and lack of services impaired his healing journey, but is grateful that he is now in an undetected and untransmittable status.
Chong believes Balai Marvi can help the LGBTQIA+ community in the Cordillera, staying true to his advocacy and ministry and sharing the blessings of a renewed life.

Maria Elena Catajan

Amianan Balita Ngayon