A lawmaker has revealed that more than 5,000 overseas Filipino workers have tested positive for HIV or AIDS and blamed exposure to “foreign cultures”.
Congressman Aniceto “John” Bertiz III said the 5,537 cases now comprise 11 per cent of the 52,280 cases recorded by the Department of Health.
He said: “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.”
Citing registry statistics, Bertiz said that from January to February this year alone, 140 OFWs – 129 men and 11 women – were newly diagnosed with HIV.
“Almost all of the OFWs in the registry acquired the infection via sexual contact,” said the congressman, himself a former OFW.
He added that the Department of Labor and Employment should invest more in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention among workers in general and OFWs in particular.
“Awareness and prevention are our best tools against infection,” he said.
He also claimed that OFWs were more susceptible to infection because they are exposed to “foreign cultures that usually encourage high-risk behaviour, including casual sex”.
He also suggested that Filipino mariners were particularly vulnerable when calling at foreign ports after long periods at sea.
“And they have the money to pay for readily available commercial or transactional sex services in foreign ports,” he said.
About one third of the world’s entire maritime workforce is Filipino.
The government’s HIV/AIDS registry shows that 86 per cent of cases, or 4,763, were found in men.
“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.
“But this is what we know. Of the 52,280 cases in the registry, 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 or difficulties thereof,” he said.
There is no known cure for HIV/AIDS, which destroys the human body’s natural ability to fight infection. However, treatments slow down the course of the disease have been developed.