5,500 OFWs infected with HIV/AIDS

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The Department of Health in Manila

A total of 5,537 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have either tested positive for the HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or have full-blown AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a lawmaker said in Manila.

ACTS-OFW Rep. Aniceto “John” Bertiz III and the infected OFWs now comprise 11 percent of the 52,280 cases listed in the Philippine Department of Health’s National HIV/AIDS Registry as of February 28.

The lawmaker did not identify the country or territory where the OFWs were deployed.

“This is very unfortunate, because if we look at the median age of these OFWs—at 32 to 34 years old—they are actually at the top of their lives in terms of potential workforce productivity,” Bertiz said in a statement.

Citing registry statistics, the lawmaker said that from January to February this year alone, 140 OFWs —129 males and 11 females—were diagnosed as HIV positive.

“Almost all of the OFWs in the registry acquired the infection via sexual contact,” Bertiz said.

He said the problem underscores the need for the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to invest more aggressively in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention among workers in general and OFWs in particular.

“Awareness and prevention are our best tools against infection,” the lawmaker said.

He said OFWs are susceptible to HIV infection because they are exposed to foreign cultures that usually encourage high-risk behavior, including casual sex.

He also acknowledged that Filipino sailors were especially vulnerable in foreign ports of call after “spending lengthy periods at sea.”

“And they have the money to pay for readily available commercial or transactional sex services in foreign ports,” Bertiz said.

Of the 5,537 OFWs in the Philippine government’s HIV/AIDS registry, Bertiz said 86 percent, or 4,763, were male.

“We do not have the figures as to how many OFWs are actually dying as a result of HIV/AIDS or complications thereof, because the registry does not track mortality by special population groups,” he said.

“But this is what we know… there have been 2,511 deaths reported so far. And in 2017 alone, an average of 41 Filipinos died every month due to HIV/AIDS,” he added.

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