Number of OFWs with HIV increasing

September 15, 2019

THE number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) diagnosed as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive is likely to surpass the 7,000 mark this year, the ACTS-OFW Coalition of Organizations said on Sunday.

“The cumulative number of OFWs confirmed as HIV-positive could reach more than 7,200 by the end of the year at the rate new cases are being discovered,” ACTS-OFW chairman Aniceto Bertiz III, a former congressman, said.

From January to May this year alone, a total of 444 newly confirmed HIV-positive OFWs were reported, up 21 percent from the 369 recorded in the same period in 2018, according to Bertiz.

“All told, the total number of OFWs found living with HIV has reached 6,699 since 1984, when the government first began passive surveillance of the virus,” Bertiz said.

“We would urge returning OFWs who suspect that they may have acquired HIV while working abroad to get themselves tested and treated early, so that they can continue to live economically productive and healthy lives,” Bertiz said.

HIV causes the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which destroys the human body’s natural ability to fight off all kinds of bacterial, viral and fungal infections.

HIV still does not have any known cure, but sustained antiretroviral treatment (ART) has been known to keep the virus suppressed, as long as the infection is diagnosed and remedied early.

OFWs now represent 10 percent of the aggregate 67,395 confirmed cases listed in the National HIV/AIDS Registry as of May, according to Bertiz.

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

The bulk of the OFWs in the registry were from Metro Manila (2,157 cases, or 32 percent); Calabarzon (1,162 cases, or 17 percent); and Central Luzon (790 cases, or 12 percent).

Of the 6,699 OFWs in the registry, 86 percent, or 5,792, were male with the median age of 32 years.

The 907 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 (2,456 from male-male sex and 1,741 from sex with both males and females).