Miss Universe-Philippines 2018 Catriona Gray takes HIV test

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 26) — Miss Universe-Philippines 2018 Catriona Gray took her first test for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) on Saturday, in a bid to promote awareness on testing.

"It's something I am very passionate about because a few years back, I did have a friend who passed away from HIV," Gray shared with CNN Philippines. "So that's what really pulled me to the cause."

In taking the test of LoveYourself Inc. -- a group dedicated to helping the youth and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community -- the beauty queen said she did not feel scared at all.

"It's not a big deal, it's just taking a step looking after yourself," she added.

After her own HIV test, Gray spent the entire day volunteering at the center. Like Gray, other volunteers during the "This is me: Brave and Free" testing day lost a loved one because of the virus.

"I have friends before kasi na nagkaroon ng HIV [who had HIV], some of them have napatay na [passed away]. Doon nag-start ang calling and ang advocacy [That is how the calling and the advocacy started] for helping out patients and clients," said Jay Soliman, one of the 900 volunteers of LoveYourself.

Soliman has been counseling persons living with HIV and AIDS for more than two years. He said what killed his friends was not just the virus or the disease, but also the stigma. This fear stopped them from seeking medical help.

On Instagram, Gray also urged netizens to join the free and confidential HIV testing.

Supporting Gray and the HIV cause was no less than Philippines' third Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach who commented, "This is amazing!"

Wurtzbach has been the country's biggest ambassador of HIV awareness since she was crowned Miss Universe in 2015, joining various activities of LoveYourself and other institutions to promote the cause.

Alarming figures

Department of Health (DOH) records showed 912 persons tested positive for HIV in March alone, and about 94 percent of which are men.

The DOH records also showed that 99 percent of the newly diagnosed individuals got the virus through sexual contact, in which 86 percent were among men who have sex with men. In other cases, the virus was contracted through needle sharing among injecting drug users.

The HIV testing of LoveYourself is free and confidential. Visit their website for schedules nationwide.

CNN Philippines' multi-platform writer Jerald Uy contributed to this story.