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Debate over OFWs undergoing HIV tests

Records taken since 1984 show that 20% of 9,669 HIV cases are OFWs

Gulf News

Manila: Plans to legislate the testing of overseas Filipino workers for HIV have caused a big debate in a country which is the world’s fourth largest source of manpower.

Congressman Arnel Ty filed a bill calling for the mandatory testing of land- and sea-based overseas Filipino workers. He also called for the allocation of Peso 400 million (Dh 33.3 million) to help the government prevent and control HIV among OFWs.

His apprehension came from records taken since 1984 that 20 per cent or 1,921 of the country’s total 9,669 HIV cases are OFWs.

In May 2012, 133 OFWs were found positive with HIV. They represented 10 per cent of new HIV cases.

Seventy-seven per cent of HIV-positive OFWs are 35 years old and below.

“We have reason to believe many of these HIV-positive OFWs are sailors,” said Ty, adding that OFWs should not only be tested for HIV when they leave for work but also when they return from abroad.

Ty hinted that seaman who initially passed HIV test could return home, take a vacation and go back to work without having to undergo subsequent HIV test.

“As a precaution, we would encourage these sexually active sailors to voluntarily undergo HIV-testing every time they come home, for the sake of their partners (back home). The earlier they get diagnosed, the sooner they can seek treatment,” said Ty, adding that seafarers have higher access (compared to other OFWs) to commercial sex abroad.

At the same time, all land-based and sea-based OFWs are forced only to undertake HIV test if their blood tests showed they are positive for a sexually transmitted disease.

In response, recruiters said the proposed bill was unnecessary.

All departing sea and land-based OFWs are required to take a full medical exam, including psychological, dental, and blood test which could reveal sexually transmitted diseases. Anyone suspected of HIV is required to take a confirmatory test with the health department, Emmanuel Geslani, a recruiter, told Journal.

Medical clinics accredited by the health department and the labour department’s Philippine overseas Employment Administration (POEA) are imposed upon to spend for the return of an OFWs who was wrongly cleared of HIV test and was allowed to be deployed abroad, said Geslani, who added, “This is another bill that is ill-advised and redundant.”

But he did not say how the government should stop the rising number of OFWs with HIV.

There are 350,000 Filipino seafarers who represent 33 percent of the world’s fleet.

Seafarers send an estimated $ 6 billion to their families in the Philippines a year, representing 30 percent of the $ 20 billion sent by all OFWs to their relatives every year.

The Philippines is fourth after China, India, and Mexico in sending workers abroad.