More OFWs found HIV positive

OVERSEAS Filipino workers (OFWs) comprised 12 percent or 36 out of the 311 new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive cases diagnosed in the country in the first two months of 2011.

Rep. Arnel Ty of the party-list group LPG/MA has warned that hundreds of OFWs may be lost in the years ahead on account of the disease that destroys the immune system and leaves individuals extremely vulnerable to opportunistic infections and tumors.

Ty said a total of 1,558 OFWs, with the median age of 36 years, have been found either HIV positive or with full-blown acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) since the country began passive surveillance of the disease in 1984.

He said OFWs now comprise one-fourth of the 6,326 total cases listed in the National HIV and AIDS Registry.

Ty has been pushing for a review of the 1998 AIDS Prevention and Control Law to find ways to reinforce the fight against the highly infectious disease. He has also been appealing for increased public funding for preventive HIV/AIDS education.

In House Resolution 724, Ty cited the need for Congress to ascertain whether existing policies and measures in the 12-year-old law are sufficient to quell the HIV/AIDS epidemic and improve the conditions of OFWs and other Filipinos living with the disease.

“There is no question that HIV/AIDS is ravaging our OFWs,” Ty said, adding they are extremely susceptible to the disease owing to their “high-risk sexual behavior” when they are outside the country.

He said 96 percent or 1,496 of the OFWs with HIV/AIDS acquired the disease through unprotected sexual contact.

Of the 1,496, Ty said 1,014 or 68 percent were infected through heterosexual contact; 288 or 19 percent via homosexual contact; and 194 or 13 percent by means of bisexual contact.

The rest were infected through tainted blood products, needle prick injury, contaminated needle-sharing while using illegal drugs, or had no reported mode of transmission.

Ty said 75 percent of all OFWs diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are males. Of the 36 OFWs reported HIV positive in January and February, 30 were males and six were females.

He said preventive education “remains the best defense against possible infection.” He urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to invest aggressively in prevention drives.

There is no known cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS, although treatments can slow the course of the disease, classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

As of February 28, at least 324 deaths due to AIDS have been reported in the Philippines.

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