As Angeline slowly closed her eyes and breathed her last, she whispered the names of her two children. They were the only reasons why she desired to live long, but her frail body was no match to the AIDS virus that has gradually eaten her life away.
Angeline (real name withheld) succumbed to cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. It is one of the many opportunistic infections affecting an individual whose immune system has been wasted by the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
CMV is a kind of herpes virus which usually produces very mild symptoms in an infected person but may cause severe nerve damage in people with weakened immune systems and in newborn babies.
Angeline met her painful death at the HIV ward of a government hospital in Manila three months ago (please note that I wrote this article in May 8, 2005).
In our interview with her last December, the 36-year-old native of Samar expressed her wish to be reunited with her two teenage children who were in the province with her paternal aunt.
“Huli kong nakita ang mga anak ko noong isang taon (2003), bago ako na-confine sa San Lazaro. Nagkahiwalay kami 5 pa lang ang panganay ko at three years old naman ang bunso. Nagkikita lang kami kung may okasyon, minsan ay hindi pa.
“Ang sabi lang nila sa akin ay magpagaling daw ako. Miss na miss ko na sila. Kung saka-sakali at manumbalik ang lakas ko at makapagtrabaho muli, gusto ko na magkasama-sama kami uli ng mga anak ko…”
Angeline failed to take her medicine because it was costly. “Kapag sobrang mahal ang gamot, minsan hindi rin ako nakakainom, o kaya humihingi ako ng tulong sa social worker. Hindi ko naman puwedeng asahan ang mga kapatid ko dahil may pamilya na rin sila at hirap din sa buhay,” said Angeline, frequently coughing in between sentences.
Angeline did not receive anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines when she was alive. ARVs slow down the AIDS virus from destroying the patient’s immune system.
Her friend Bobby Ruiz, of the Positive Action Foundation of the Philippines (PAFPI), told People’s Tonight in an interview yesterday that Angeline could have lived a little longer if only there were enough medicines to treat her CMV.
“Mako-control pa dapat ang CMV niya, pero walang gamot na available sa hospital dahil mahal. Kung magkaroon man ng stock, hindi rin kumpleto. Wala naman resources si Angeline para masuportahan ang medicines niya,” he said.
A drug store estimates that the generic medicine Ganciclovir vial used in treating CMV costs more than P2,000, administered for two weeks and even up to 21 days.
Ruiz claimed that indigent HIV patients confined in San Lazaro Hospital virtually await their death.
“Binibigyan sila ng reseta, ‘heto bilhin ninyo, ipasok ninyo sa Philippines Charity Sweepstakes Office, kung wala, wala tayong magagawa.’ Minsan may taning na, kailangan nang mainom ang gamot.
“Wait lang ang mga doctor, wait lang ang pamilya pati na ang pasyente hanggang sa mamatay sila.
“Masakit sa amin dahil nakikita naming ang kamatayan nila. Hindi alam ng pasyente na naghihintay sila saw ala. Kaya gumagawa kami ng paraan hanggang sa abot ng aming makakaya,” he said.
Angeline was widowed twice. She married at 16 due to poverty. Her second husband, a former worker in Hong Kong, died of AIDS complications four years ago.
Until his death in 2001, Angeline had no idea that her husband Rafael (not his real name) had HIV infection. It was the only time she learned about the dreaded HIV/AIDS. She got the infection from Rafael.
“Nagsama kami noong 1997. Alam niyang may sakit siya, pero hindi niya sinabi sa akin. Dati siyang OFW, naglilinis ng building. Nakuha naman niya ang virus sa una niyang asawa na nakilala niya sa Hong Kong.
“Namatay ang asawa niya sa AIDS complications sa San Lazaro. Pero ang sinabi niyang dahilan ng pagkamatay nito ay hepatitis,” said Angeline, who had worked as babysitter since she was 15.
Angeline, who also sold chili in Divisoria to support herself and the needs of her two younger siblings in the early 1980s, said that she didn’t have any idea that Rafael was ill.
“Wala akong nakitang symptoms sa kanya,” she said. “Kaya nang sabihin ng parents niya na may AIDS siya, ayaw kong pang maniwala, cardiac arrest kasi nakalagay sa death certificate niya.”
Angeline’s worst nightmare came in 2003 when her health began to fail. She was taken to San Lazaro Hospital for fever and profuse diarrhea. Further tests conducted on her revealed that she was positive for HIV.
“Magalit man ako kay Rafael wala na rin akong magagawa, nangyari na,” Angeline pointed out, tears falling down her cheeks.
The last time we talked to Angeline, she made an appeal for compassion: “Sana may tumulong man lang sa amin para makabili ng gamot. Nais pa rin naming mabuhay ng matagal at makapagtrabaho muli…”
Up to the last moment in her life, Angeline was hoping that she would be given the necessary medicine to relieve her pain.
“Si Angeline na walang mauwian, naghihintay na lang ng kamatayan niya. Inabot rin siya ng mahigit isang taon…Wala siyang pambayad ng hospital, eh. Ang mga katulad ni Angeline walang choice, kaya hindi siya makapagreklamo,” Ruiz said.
Angeline’s two children who were clueless of their mother’s cause of death didn’t make it to her burial.
There are more mothers — and father — with AIDS waiting for medical assistance, hoping and fighting to survive. – Miriam V. Torrecampo (People’s Tonight, May 8, 2005)