PH launches world's first 'AIDS Hour'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — In a bid to keep hope alive amid the incurable disease, the Department of Health (DOH), in collaboration with the local government of Quezon City, conducted the world's first AIDS Hour on May 14 (Saturday) at the Liwasang Aurora of the Quezon City Memorial Circle (QCMC). 

AIDS Hour, set from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., coincides with the observance of the 33rd International AIDS Candlelight Memorial (IACM), which commemorates those who have died from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Health Sec. Janette Garin said one of the main goals of the HIV-AIDS awareness drive is to end the stigma towards the disease.

"The launch of the first ever AIDS Hour in the world is a concrete example of the Philippines doing our part in the global effort against HIV and AIDS," Garin said in a news release.

"We need to raise awareness because many people living with HIV do not know what health services are available to them. Others are afraid to consult, or are socially stigmatized for being HIV-positive. We hope the AIDS Hour movement will spread not just in our country but globally."

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Aside from the candlelighting ceremony, IACM was also renamed on Saturday as the Philippine AIDS Candlelight Memorial (PACM) to boost nationwide efforts on public information drive on the disease.

Garin said AIDS Hour will now be observed annually, and the DOH will select a host city to spearhead the HIV awareness campaign. Filipino communities overseas will also participate in the landmark project, as every candle lit embodies the "struggle to overcome HIV and AIDS."

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Meanwhile, DOH announced that the free and confidential HIV testing is still available in social hygiene clinics run by local government units (LGUs) and in 22 treatment hubs nationwide. Laboratory confirmation of HIV seropositivity also allows patients to avail of the PhilHealth Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) package.

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"HIV is just a virus. We cannot allow it to destroy the lives of our fellow Filipinos. We can stop HIV transmission only through a collective societal effort, beginning with widespread awareness about HIV and the necessary preventive behaviors and measures," Garin said.