HIV spreading fast among Filipino migrant workers

Bishop appeals to church groups to take action as migrants now account for 11 percent of reported cases
HIV spreading fast among Filipino migrant workers

A Protestant church group holds a candle-lighting activity in Manila to create awareness of their campaign against the spread of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines in April. (Photo by Mike Taboy/ reporter, Manila
April 13, 2018
At least 11 percent of 52,280 Filipinos who have tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or who have full-blown AIDS are migrant workers, a new report shows.

Data from the Philippines' Department of Health show there are 5,537 Filipinos working abroad who tested positive for HIV or AIDS as of Feb. 28.

Church leaders have been voicing alarm at the rising number of cases, especially among young people, for several years. Even the clergy have been advised to undergo tests for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.

Lawmaker, Aniceto Bertiz III, of the migrant workers party in Congress said of those migrants who tested positive, 4,763 were male.

At least 140 migrant workers were newly diagnosed with HIV from January to February this year. The new cases break down as 129 males and 11 females.

"This is very unfortunate," said the legislator, adding that most of those who are infected are in their early 30s or "in the prime of their lives in terms of potential workforce productivity."

Bertiz said almost all of the migrant workers in the registry acquired the infection via sexual contact.

"They are more susceptible to having HIV or AIDS because they are exposed to foreign cultures that tend to encourage high-risk behavior, including casual sex," said the legislator.

The Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People of the Bishops' Conference of the Philippines expressed alarm over the "growing threat."

"It is destructive and deadly," said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the commission. The prelate said everyone needs to work together to address the issue.

"With this alarming news we will discuss and address this pressing issue with episcopal commissions on health care for awareness, prevention, medical help and assistance," he said.

Bishop Santos said the church is not only focusing on the pastoral care, spiritual and sacramental welfare of migrant workers, but also their physical well-being.

"[We want] to make their lives dignified and ensure their rights are respected and promoted. It is our desire that they live fully, fruitfully and faithfully," said the prelate.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines last year launched a campaign to combat discrimination against those who have the virus.

The Protestant group said one of the significant challenges when caring for people with HIV and AIDS is the stigma and discrimination they face in society.

Aside from that, the group also noted the "dismal public health care" available to them, a situation exacerbated by the government policy of privatizing public hospitals and health facilities.

"Public health care, including HIV prevention and management, as well as the treatment of opportunistic infections of AIDS patients, have all become commodities with a price tag for every service," the group said in a statement.

The Health Department registry also revealed that a total of 2,511 deaths have been recorded from the total number of HIV and AIDS cases.

At least 41 of those deaths were recorded in 2017.

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