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Confronting AIDS With Activism: Getting to Zero in the Philippines

in PHILIPPINES, 18/11/2012

Philippines' Secretary of Health Enrique Ona chose not to address the Philippines' growing HIV epidemic for a grueling amount of time. Living in a country where HIV/AIDS is not part of the national conversation convinced Niccolo Cosme, a gay, 31-year-old Filipino artist and activist based in Manila, to bring HIV to the government rather than wait for the slow-moving machine to react.

Dressed as a physical representation of HIV -- complete with a red body suit and pseudo-reptilian spiky skin -- Cosme confronted Ona in the middle of a United Nations event held in the Philippines' most public arena, the Mall of Asia. For Cosme, it was a visceral, visual message: The Filipino government needs to come face-to-face with HIV, just as the rest of the population has had to do.

"As an activist, [actions like this] are things, I think, that would amplify the urgency to do something about this problem," Cosme says. "I was being escorted out. But I was lucky, because I was the featured artist in that exhibition [that day]. So I was able to challenge their people. I had to tell them, 'You can't kick me out. I'm the artist. I'm here.'"

Cosme is just one of a thriving number of driven Filipino activists hoping to spur the government to act on the HIV/AIDS crisis in the Philippines. According to UNAIDS, the Philippines is one of the seven countries in the world where the HIV rate is rising, making the World AIDS Day theme of "getting to zero," in terms of new infections, a daunting challenge.

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