MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 29, 2010) - Some 1,500 overseas Filipino workers have tested HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) positive, and they now comprise 26 percent of the 5,729 reported cases in the National AIDS Registry as of end October, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said Monday.
"One out of every four Filipinos diagnosed HIV positive is an OFW," said TUCP secretary-general Ernesto Herrera.
HIV is the retrovirus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
"This is very unfortunate, because if we look closely at the median age of HIV positive OFWs, at 36 years old, they are the prime of their lives and productivity," said Herrera, former chairman of the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resources development.
He said 96 percent of the HIV positive OFWs were infected through sexual contact. "This underscores the need for government to aggressively encourage safe sex through the use of male and female condoms," he said.
"OFWs are particularly vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases because they are exposed to foreign cultures that tend to abet high-risk behavior, including casual sex," he added.
Herrera said Filipino sailors are exceptionally susceptible, after spending lengthy periods at sea.
"Sailors are often deluged by commercial sex workers at their foreign ports of call, and they have the money to pay for the services," he pointed out, adding, TUCP's member federations include the Philippine Seafarers' Union.
Of the HIV positive OFWs, Herrera said 75 percent or 1,127 are male.
Herrera urged the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to include AIDS preventive education in the free seminars for departing workers.
He likewise prodded the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to invest in activities that raise AIDS awareness among OFWs and their families here.
In the local labor front, Herrera said Congress should mandate the inclusion of AIDS preventive education in all bargaining contracts between management and union.
TUCP earlier backed President Benigno Aquino III's pro-choice family planning policy, calling it "a courageous demonstration of political leadership," amid strong resistance from Catholic Church officials.
"We are absolutely behind the President's decision (for government) to provide condoms and other modern contraceptives to couples who would prefer to limit their number of children and avoid unplanned pregnancies," Herrera said.
He described the President's policy as "a fair and sensible approach" to human development and population management.
TUCP is also pushing for the inclusion of family planning and reproductive health clinics and services at the workplace in every bargaining contract between union and management.