Living outside the closet

Diagnosed with HIV in 2010, then 20-year old Jebsen Gamido faced the scrutiny of coming out with the illness in a “macho” industry. Now a president of a support group for seafarers, he looks back and shares how he made it through and lived since

“Accept it and forgive yourself”

“It will be good for anyone diagnosed with HIV to acknowledge it to be able to seek help,” shares Jebsen Gamido, founder and president of Positibong Marino Philippines, Inc. (PMPI). He was diagnosed HIV+ in January 2010 during his pre-shipboard medical examination.

The clinic gave him the prerogative to inform his shipping company of his condition. As he did, he was taken off his line-up and watching his peers get deployed one by one depressed him even more. The news soon broke and Gamido spent the next five months isolating himself.

“I was hopeless. I would cry day and night, wherever I am,” he laments. “I visited every church I’d come across with, and pray, and then cry with unlimited tears. I loathed myself until I got tired and all my tears were gone.”

He then started attending retreats and eventually joined a new church where he developed a new perspective and accepted his condition.

“I got very busy with church activities. Little by little, the Lord rebuilt me,” he adds. “Forgiveness eventually followed when I came to know the Lord better.”

Reach out

Gamido turned to his family the very moment he received his findings. There were no formal support groups for “people living with HIV” (PLHIV) back then, particularly for seafarers. Even the industry did not know how to respond.

“HIV is a very dark and hush-hush matter,” shares Gamido who found solace in exchanging stories with long-time PLHIVs, some of whom were also seafarers.

“I looked down at myself and perceived that people saw me as the same,” he recalls, only to prove himself wrong when he finally reached out.

“I was humbled with the love and support I received. You know when people give eulogies and pour their hearts out with kind words—it was like that. It’s ironic but it made me feel better,” he says, suggesting that disconnecting is never a solution. Seeing his peers treat him normally—sharing the pool, eating, and spending time with him—made him feel accepted and helped him socially reintegrate.

“Continue your life not as if nothing happened, but as if everything happened.”

After a year-long fight for his rights, Gamido finally secured shipboard training with help from the Philippine National Aids Council (who first implemented RA 8504 that protects the rights of PLHIVs) among other organizations. He became the first HIV+ individual in his company to get onboard, and graduated with a degree in BS Marine Transportation in 2014.

“I changed my lifestyle. I had to be more cautious and take medication but there was no special treatment from my peers. I performed my tasks onboard just like everyone else,” shares Gamido. He offset the rigorous schedule of seafaring with sufficient sleep and exercise on top of a well-balanced diet. Gamido has also taken ART or anti-retroviral therapy for the last seven years and has reached an ‘undetectable level’ wherein the viral load in his body has become too low to be transmitted.

“Adhere to your medication and watch your health. Quit smoking and substance abuse,” he notes. Since the virus attacks the immune system, one should avoid acquiring other diseases, so it is advisable to get vaccinated against these.

Be responsible and practice safe sex

He warns that some long-time PLHIVs who reached undetectable levels and got used to their condition tend to neglect good practices (a regular reminder from loved ones may help keep them on track.)

“I believe that the person we are dating should be aware of our condition,” shares Gamido. “However, disclosing your status comes with a certain level of trust. Nobody wants to be immediately judged,” he cautions.

A high viral load of HIV is communicable through blood transfusion, sharing of needles, and sexual interactions among many others. Use condoms, and get a prescribed medication called Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP for non-reactants (that coats a protective lining to the immune cells that HIV attacks.) “You should know better. The best thing you can do is to prevent someone from going through what you did.”

For cases wherein both persons are infected, checking each other’s medication is important, as incompatibility may lead to body resistance against their HIV drugs.

“Take control of your life. Don’t let it define you.”

With help from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Associated Marine Officers’ and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP), Gamido launched Positibong Marino Philippines, Inc. in 2016 to create a network of health and wellbeing advocates to support PLHIV seafarers and their affected families. One of its main thrusts is to fight for the rights of reactive seafarers and abolish the stigma of being HIV+. From time to time, he attends PDOS (pre-departure orientation seminars), talks, and conferences to share his story and educate others.

“Involve yourself and know the community. If possible, enlighten others,” he notes. “Be defined by how you rise above the challenge and how you make sure those misery and regrets would not go in vain.”

Get tested regularly

Early detection can help an infected person get medication to slow the spread and fight the virus. A 2013 study says that people who know their status are less likely to transmit the virus to someone else.

“There is no specific guide to recovery but these are some proven testimony gathered by PMPI from PLHIVs,” Gamido attests. Know more about Gamido’s advocacy and reach his group through their Facebook page Positibong Marino Philippines, Inc.

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