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Miss Universe 2016 meets Apicha CHC CEO Therese Rodriguez

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  • Written By: Apicha Community Health Center

Therese Meets Miss Universe 2016 - A Personal Account

January 13, 2016

On a bitterly cold day--30-degree weather, made more severe by strong winds, I went to the Philippine Consulate at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue to meet Miss Universe.

In an email to me, Miss Olivia Osias Magpile, Cultural Officer of the Consulate, wrote:

“Dear Ms. Therese,

As you may recall, Miss Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, 2016 Miss Universe, expressed her interest on HIV/AIDS during the Miss Universe competition in Dec 2015.

In this regard, the Consul General wishes to invite you to meet her during her call on the Consul General on Wednesday, 13 January 2016.  Miss Universe will meet you together with the representative of UNAIDS, New York.”

Miss Universe 2016 and CEO ThereseAlong with community leaders and UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) representatives, we waited in a room until, one by one, we were escorted into the board room. When it was my turn to go in, I was invited to sit across from Pia and Consul General Mario de Leon. On the table was my name card. Consul General De Leon introduced me as the CEO of Apicha Community Health Center and said that he was proud that a Filipina is leading a very important organization in the U.S. doing work in HIV/AIDS.

In the one-on-one conversation with Miss Universe, I expressed the important role a celebrity can play in addressing poverty, HIV/AIDS stigma and intolerance. These, I said, are factors that act as incubators for the spread of the AIDS epidemic. Celebrity and government partnership could make a big difference by tackling these issues. I praised the many efforts of Consul General de Leon in providing a supportive environment for the Filipino community discourse on HIV, as an example of meaningful partnership.

I shared with Miss Universe new developments on HIV comprehensive care and new drugs that can lead to the end of the AIDS epidemic. I raised the importance of early HIV diagnosis, early link to care, and retention in care through introduction of drugs that can suppress the viral load of those infected. For those not yet infected, I introduced the use and effectiveness of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to prevent getting HIV infection. Pia exclaimed, “Oh is that like vaccination?”

Miss Universe then inquired if there was an organization similar to Apicha CHC in the Philippines. I informed her that there are folks in the Philippines, including a former Apicha staff member, working with New York community leaders; for example, Dr. Mars Custodio organizes medical missions to the Philippines that have connected with each other. They would like to establish a model of care, similar to Apicha, in the Philippines. Miss Universe expressed her desire to meet with them. She mentioned her imminent homecoming.

At the end of my allotted 4 minutes, I invited her to visit Apicha. She said, “I like that, are you in New York? And while there I like the idea of getting an HIV test. Do I have to fast before the test?”

After our brief conversation, I left the PC (Philippine Center, not politically correct) with joy in my heart, almost forgetting the bitterness of winter. Thanks to an enlightened government official, I had the opportunity to meet this young person, whose quiet demeanor and penetrating gaze told me that she was listening to my message. I am not familiar with the world of beauty contests but after today I think I am ready to shed some of the stereotypes I carry around.

For more information about the great things happening at Apicha Community Health Center, check out our other blog post on our 2015 successes here.