AT least 5,537 overseas Filipino workers have either tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus or have full-blown AIDS, and they now comprise 11 percent of the 52,280 cases listed in the Department of Health’s National HIV/AIDS registry as of Feb. 28, a party-list lawmaker said Sunday.
“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,” said ACTS-OFW Rep. Anicento Bertiz III.
Citing registry statistics, he said from January to February this year alone, 140 OFWs—129 males and 11 females—were newly diagnosed as HIV-positive.
“Almost all of the OFWs in the registry acquired the infection via sexual contact,” he added.
The problem underscored the need for the Department of Labor and Employment to invest more aggressively in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention among workers, he said.
“Awareness and prevention are our best tools against infection,” he added.
Bertiz said overseas workers are susceptible to HIV infection because they are exposed to foreign culture that usually encourages high-risk behavior, including casual sex.
He also said overseas Filipino seafarers are even more vulnerable, as they have the money to pay for readily available commercial or transactional sex services in foreign ports, he said.
Of the 5,537 OFWs in the 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. 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 [not necessarily OFWs] died every month due to HIV/AIDS or difficulties thereof,” he said.
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