The role of social media, digitized art in addressing HIV

By Ma. Teresa Montemayor

October 30, 2018, 11:15 am

MANILA -- While social media is considered a dangerous place for the young people today, it is considered the most effective means to inform them about serious health problems like Human Immuno Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).

Ang social media ay maikukumpara ko sa venom ng ahas, kung ano ang lason iyon din ang mapagkukunan mo ng gamot (I would compare social media to a snake’s venom, the poison is the antidote itself,” Brian Bantugan, a senior high school teacher at St. Paul University Manila, told Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview.

Bantugan is also the author of a study titled “Digitized Art and HIV/AIDS-Related Advocacies in the Philippines”, which was funded by the National Research Council of the Philippines.

“The young people, say the senior high school students, many of them have HIV, actually the latest data from the Department of Health show rising increase in the number of newly-diagnosed HIV cases. And, many journals or studies relate HIV cases with social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Grindr, Blued, Happn which provide them easy access to sexual partners,” he said.

Bantugan said that around 32 new HIV cases are recorded per day in the country as of February 2018. He added that this is a huge increase compared to two new cases recorded per day in 2008.

“The data shows 544 cases from January to February 2018 are 15 to 24 years old. The social media is where everybody else goes and it is the language of the young people,” he said.

In addition to easy access to sexual partners, Bantugan explained that the increase of HIV/AIDS cases among the youth can be traced to the lack of openness and appropriate discussions about the disease in the Philippine Society.

“There is no place where young people can talk about their sexual problems, there is stigma about sex, minors, HIV and homosexuality in homes, schools, churches and even in media because mainstream media try to avoid airing issues that would divide the public,” he added.

Bantugan suggested that the most effective response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic is to tackle the root causes of the stigma and ensure inclusive and accessible services that would protect, empower and educate especially the young people.

"Keith Haring, in his artwork, he shared that ignorance about AIDS leads to fear and silence about it leads to death. Also, in 1987 the AIDS quilt made its first appearance on the National Mall in Washington DC to enlighten the people about AIDS. But, here in the Philippines, there are only movies tackling about AIDS starting in 1993 with Dahil Mahal Kita, The Secrets of Sara Jane in 1994," he said.

According to Bantugan, the depiction of HIV/AIDS cases in movies has evolved through time as many mainstream and independent films now show not just the story of an overseas Filipino worker or sex worker but also stories of young people like Wanggo Gallaga, who admitted meeting his sexual partners through social media chats.

"If you do a research there are real people who contracted the disease who share their stories online, in YouTube, for example. There are also prominent people who document and share their HIV testing like Boy Abunda and others," he said.

Describing the social media platforms as an open space, Bantugan stressed that it is the best venue for the correction of HIV/AIDS stigma and dissemination of information about it with the use and sharing of "digitized art".

"Ang example ng digitized art ay ang post mo sa social media maaaring music o painting na kinuhaan mo ng litrato. Ang post mo ay hindi makukulong doon, mayroong magdadagdag na mensahe at iba pang biswal na elemento na nagpapakitang hindi ito nakatali sa code ng social media platform at pwede natin ito gamitin sa (Your post in social media is an exmaple of digitized art which could be a music or painting you took a picture of. Your post won't be limited there, other messages and visual elements would be added showing that it is not limited to social media platform codes  and we can use this in) HIV/AIDS cases," he added.

Bantugan said artists who want to promote their HIV/AIDS advocacies through social media platforms must be sensitive about mainstream audiences or social media users.

"Artists must produce something consumable for the mainstream audiences. They must find creative ways by which the message can be easily consumed by the young people who must know about HIV/AIDS because ang social media walang wall ng (the social media has no wall of) teacher, religious leader, young people have built-in walls against parents and persons of authotiy, here all you have is an opening," he said. 

Bantugan added that the "digitized art" must be able to present the stigma about HIV/AIDS, show scientific facts and solutions, foster change in perception and behavior, and urge audience to act in order to be considered effective in the campaign against the disease. (PNA)