Young adult novel by HS alumnus raises HIV-AIDS awareness

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Cover of Mga Batang Poz of Segundo Matias, Jr.

ALONG with the rise of cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Philippines is worrisome statistics showing more and more young people have become infected.

In the first two months of 2019 alone, 692 Filipinos aged 15 to 24 were confirmed HIV-positive, according to the Department of Health. Despite the outbreak, stigma and discrimination hinder Filipinos from understanding the problem and helping people affected by it.

In his book, “Mga Batang Poz,” UST High School alumnus Segundo Matias Jr. challenges the limits of young adult literature by depicting HIV in its earlier stages. The book describes in detail how the illness affects the lives of the four main characters—Luis, Enzo, Gab and Chuchay—who all use alternames in their Facebook group chat named “Pete’s corner.” “Pete” means HIV.

After being diagnosed, the four characters start to live their lives in the shadows. Along with the discrimination of being homosexual gay, people infected with HIV also suffer from being stigmatized, restricting them from continuing their lives outside of their illness.

Coming from different social classes, they comfort one another and bravely face up to their condition. The story distinguishes the cognitive dissonance in how each social class views the homosexual gays.

Matias truly breathes life into these characters from varying mindsets to how each of them found himself to be poz or positive with HIV. Tackling how people reacted to the characters’ health condition, Matias highlights the aftermath and frustration of being diagnosed—being shunned by family and friends, losing reputations, and sometimes, losing lives.

The narratives also reveals the “alter culture” or having alter-ego accounts on social media, especially on Twitter, and how the gay youth interact in that digital space. Social media has become an avenue to connect its users and allow them to personally meet. Matias intricately describes how men have sex with men by exposing the characters’ longing for physical touch and comfort.In writing the book, Matias ensures that he writes as truthful as he can about the topic. He conducted interviews with doctors, nurses, and patients and often visited the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, a health research facility implementing research programs to prevent and control country’s prevailing diseases. He also went to various HIV clinics and testing centers to understand the illness better and the available treatment options for those who were diagnosed.

Clearly, Matias’s goal is to provide a platform for dialogue about HIV toward helping everyone diagnosed as poz. Matias is careful in treading the illness—making sure that he neither blames nor judges anyone—merely giving more value to the power of having the courage to face the illness.

In this digital age, where most of the youth also employ social media to explore their sexualities, it becomes important to integrate a more open environment where people can talk about these things and promote—if not abstinence—safe sex.

It is already difficult to live with a disease with no cure, but to remain in a state of repression is something that can still be dealt with. The stigma bears down on all the poz, it pushes them away from their family and their friends, their normal lives if not for their illness.

By understanding their condition and providing a dialogue where they feel most welcome, maybe there is a bigger possibility for them to continue living their lives to the fullest.

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