MANILA -- When we hear the word "dermatology," sexually transmitted diseases may be the last thing that comes to mind, especially in a culture that puts a premium on good looks.
But peeling away and taking the road less traveled is Dr. Gilbert Yang, a dermatologist and the first Filipino doctor who trained as a venereologist at the prestigious University of Liverpool in England. He is also a fellow at the Philippine Dermatological Society and the Philippine Society of Venereology.
"One thing that everyone needs to know is that sexually transmitted infections is a sub-specialty of dermatology. Seventy percent of sexually transmitted infections come out on the skin. And the dermatologists can recognize them even before the HIV becomes AIDS or becomes advanced through some skin findings, on the face, on the body," Yang told ABS-CBN News.
Yang, a noted male STD expert, will join hundreds of experts and advocates shedding light on the evolving landscape of sexually transmitted infections and HIV elimination at the STI and HIV World Congress in Vancouver, Canada from July 14 to 18. He is the only Filipino doctor to be invited to co-chair a presentation on practices of implementing Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (or PrEP) on gays, bisexuals, and other men who have sex with men in countries like Australia, Brazil, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, as one of the medical breakthroughs to be tackled in the congress.
The Philippines now has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the whole of Asia and the Pacific where there is an estimated 40 cases reported per day. Recently introduced in the Philippines, PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy where HIV-negative individuals take anti-HIV medications to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
Yang is optimistic it could help curb the alarming figures.
"There's a lot of advocacy NGOs for HIV treatment and support. But how about those who are non-HIV positive? The partners, their sex partners or their loved ones who still have sexual contact with them, with the positives, but they'd like to be negative?" he said.
Yang will also be reporting on the progress the Philippines has made in tackling the spread of HIV, among them President Rodrigo Duterte's signing of Republic Act 11166 earlier this year, which strengthens HIV, AIDS and health services, making the antiretroviral drugs or ARV drugs free in all treatment hubs.
"The ARV drug is now covered by insurance by PhilHealth and the NGOs who support it, so they don't have to pay a single cent.
We call them the Department of Health-accredited hubs. It helps lessen the burden on patients na walang pera but need some medicine," Yang said.
There's also support networks like Love Yourself, which provides awareness through education, counseling, and socially interactive activities.
With accelerating HIV figures and lack of services catering to males, Yang's sub-specialization has overtaken the basic services of skincare at his clinic and curing patients who seek his discreet services has now become an advocacy of 21 years.
The skin doctor is also considered a rose among the thorns in a female-dominated industry.
"Everyone wants good skin. I still handle those and I still handle skin diseases. It's just part... of the skin diseases are sexually transmitted infections, which I got interested in because I was seeing more and more of them in dermatology," said Yang.
"I was the only guy. There were 14 girls and one guy. So, guess where all the male patients went to? Sa akin. Nahihiya sa babae. So, I said, why not study further on those STDs," he added.
Since embarking on his advocacy, he has held international lectures at Thailand's Training Institute for STDs and AIDS, and in Singapore, to name a few.
The biennial STI and HIV Congress is considered one of the largest gatherings on sexually transmitted infections, and represents the joint meeting of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Diseases Research and the International Union Against Sexually Transmitted Infections.