Department of Health. Photo: Google Maps

A total of 5,537 overseas Filipino workers have tested positive for HIV or had full-blown AIDS since 1984, according to the Department of Health’s National HIV/AIDS Registry, prompting calls for the government to step up awareness and prevention campaigns.

Aniceto Bertiz, a member of the House of Representatives, added that 140 OFWs had become infected in January and February this year.

Department of Health figures show that OFWs accounted for 11% of HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines in the past 34 years, GMA News reported; 4,763, or 86% of the total, were male.

“This is very unfortunate, because if we look at the median age of these OFWs — at 32 to 34 years old — they are actually at the top of their lives in terms of potential workforce productivity,” Bertiz said.

So far 2,511 deaths have been reported from AIDs, but figures for mortality rates are incomplete. In 2017 an average of 41 Filipinos (not necessarily OFWs) died monthly from HIV/AIDS.

Bertiz said OFWs were more vulnerable to HIV infections because they were exposed to new cultures that encouraged casual sex.

“Almost all of the OFWs in the registry acquired the infection via sexual contact,” the legislator said.

He urged the Department of Labor and Employment to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS risks to prevent other migrant workers being exposed and to reduce the number of infections.

“Awareness and prevention are our best tools against infection.”

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