“To fight HIV Stigma, We Gave Away Cupcakes”: A World AIDS Day Social Experiment


This year, the Philippines reported the highest number of HIV cases on a daily basis: 22 people testing positive–a huge leap from the 17 people in 2014. Since 1984 when the first HIV case was documented in the Philippines, the country has leapfrogged to 29,079 cases as of October 2015.

Stigma plays a huge part in the unreported cases: many fear getting tested for HIV, because they’re afraid that people will discriminate them should they test positive. And with misconceptions about HIV and AIDS still prevalent, more undocumented people will fall through the cracks—never accessing treatment and support necessary to fight the disease.

So how did giving away cupcakes teach people about HIV?

On December 1, 2015, pioneering HIV advocacy organization The Red Whistle, together with Virtualahan and Supreme Support Service, spearheaded “The Cupcake Test”—a social experiment in Davao City, to understand more about how the lack of HIV knowledge continues to fuel stigma and ostracism of people living with HIV.

In celebration of World AIDS Day, two actors played as HIV-positive people, giving away cupcakes they baked for the special occasion.

A lot of people which they approached refused the cupcakes outright, and some expressed concern about the possibility of getting HIV from the cupcakes.

There was, however, a glimmer of hope: some of those interviewed said that people “should not judge a person even if they are infected with HIV”, that we all “should be more proactive when it comes to AIDS”, and that “there’s already medical treatment for HIV”—reinforcing the truth that everyone must take measures to protect themselves, whatever their status is.

Says Ryan Gersava, Executive Director of Virtualahan: “Virtualahan, as a social enterprise, has a mission to help people suffering from employment discrimination—which includes people living with HIV and AIDS.

“According to the data from International Labour Office, a recent survey in Asia showed that one in six respondents who were living with HIV/AIDS had been discriminated in the workplace. A higher proportion of respondents experienced workplace discrimination in the Philippines (21 per cent) than in other countries in the region (15 per cent in Indonesia, 12 per cent in India and 7 per cent in Thailand). Virtualahan wants to help in eliminating stigma and discrimination by raising awareness through public education, hence the social experiment.”

Adds Evan Tan, The Red Whistle representative: “If there’s one message that this experiment reinforced, it’s that ignorance and fear are huge barriers when it comes to stopping HIV. We believe that making education, testing, and support accessible to the Filipino youth—27% of Filipinos living with HIV are between 15 to 24—are crucial to fight the disease.”

“Whether you’re HIV-positive or negative, you have a responsibility to educate yourself about HIV, and be proactive when it comes to spreading knowledge of HIV and combating stigma,” ends Tan.

To view the video, visit: http://bit.ly/thecupcaketest

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