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Internet, Prostitution, and HIV/AIDS

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Photo from a DOH HIV/AIDS posterPhoto from a DOH HIV/AIDS poster

 

The number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines has surpassed the 10,000- mark in July. The Department of Health's Philippine HIV/AIDS Registry showed that from 1984 to September 2012, there were 10,830 HIV cases and 1,078 of them became AIDS with 353 deaths. To date, about 10 new cases are reported daily.

 

Since the first AIDS case was diagnosed in 1984, the HIV/AIDS level in the Philippines has been regarded as mysteriously “low and slow.” However, latest statistics seem to suggest that the country's luck is running out. Although HIV prevalence remains below one percent of the general population, it has already breached one percent among key population at higher risk.

 

Sexual contact is the most common mode of HIV transmission, but from 2007 there has been a shift in the predominant trend of sexual transmission from heterosexual contact (20%) to males having sex with other males (MSM, 80%). The DOH clarified that men who engage in sex with men were not all homosexuals. It reiterated that HIV/AIDS is not about being gay but about men having unprotected sex with men.

 

In October, the DOH announced the results of its study conducted last year that showed online social networking contributes to the rise in the HIV/AIDS cases in the country. The study covered 180 MSM respondents. Of the 180 respondents, 124 admitted to using online network sites for dating and sex, while 133 said they had sex with people they contacted through online network sites. Those who engaged in sex were between the age of 14 and 36.

 

Health Assistant Secretary and Director of the National Epidemiology Center Dr. Enrique Tayag said, “Through online networking sites, MSM can meet without fear of negative social consequences. He added that with the Internet increasing the rates of risky behavior, online social networking can now be included as an evolving risk factor for HIV/AIDS. The list the risky behaviors contributing to the rise of HIV/AIDS includes not using condoms, multiple sex partners, men having sex with men and injecting drug users.

 

Also in October, the United Nations (UN) report that recommended to legalize prostitution jolted the nation. The UN said the decriminalization of the world’s oldest profession in the Asia and the Pacific Region help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV. It also said the criminalization of sex-related jobs increases workers’ susceptibility to HIV by “fuelling stigma and discrimination, limiting access to sexual health services, condoms and harm reduction services; and adversely affecting the self esteem of sex workers and their ability to make informed choices about their health.” The recommendation is also a move to stop the exploitation of sex workers and to give them basic rights by suggesting that their jobs, too, should have typical workplace standards in line with the law and government.

 

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile made a strong statement on the recommendation in media and said, "We can't just obey what the UN wants. If other countries want all their women to become prostitutes, then it's up to them."

 

Meanwhile, the Philippine Commission on Women is echoing the UN call for the decriminalization of prostitution but is opposing its legalization. It views prostitution as an exploitative system that commodifies and dehumanizes women, men and children who are being victimized within the system.

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