88 Overseas Filipino workers added to rising number of HIV cases in Philippines

SOME 88 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were newly diagnosed as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive in February, up 22 percent from 72 in the same month in 2018, according to an opposition House leader.

“The February cases brought to 6,433 the cumulative number of OFWs found living with HIV since the government began passive surveillance of the virus in 1984,” said House Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Aniceto Bertiz III.

OFWs now comprise 10 percent of the 64,291 confirmed cases listed in the National HIV/AIDS Registry as of February, according to Bertiz.

The OFWs in the registry worked abroad within the past five years, either on land or at sea, when they were diagnosed HIV-positive, Bertiz said.

Of the 6,433 OFWs in the registry, 86 percent, or 5,553, were male with the median age of 32 years.

The 880 female OFWs in the registry had a median age of 34 years.

Of the male OFW cases, 72 percent were found infected via sexual contact among MSM, or men who have sex with men (2,328 from male-to-male sex and 1,674 from sex with both males and females).

HIV causes AIDS, or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which destroys the human body’s natural ability to fight off all kinds of infections. Though the condition still does not have any known cure, antiretroviral therapy has been known to slow down the virus.

Bertiz is counting on the Department of Labor and Employment to deliver “highly improved support” to the growing number of OFWs living with HIV, as mandated by the new AIDS Prevention and Control Law that took effect earlier this year.

Section 37 of the new law obligates the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, together with other agencies, to develop a program to provide stigma-free comprehensive reintegration, care and support for OFWs with HIV, Bertiz said.

“Under the law, the economic, social and medical support is to be extended to all OFWs, regardless of employment status and stage in the migration process,” Bertiz said.

Section 17 of the law also requires all overseas-bound Filipino workers as well as Philippine government staff for foreign posting to undergo a seminar on the causes, manner of prevention, and impact of HIV and AIDS, prior to certification for deployment or assignment, Bertiz said.

“The preventive education seminar is to be provided for free and at no cost to OFWs or to the staff concerned,” Bertiz said.