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HIV/AIDS news have reached this big in HealthBeat countdown for quite some time until the end of January when media reported the results of a study entitled “Lifestyle and Reproductive Health Issues of Young Professionals in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu” conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the Department of Health.

Call center agents were particularly cited by the media on the rise of HIV cases in the Philippines. This is bad considering that business process outsourcing (BPO) has contributed a lot to the economic progress of the country.

The study was conducted to examine the economic, social, and health status of young professionals less than 35 years old. It included 929 respondents from 35 BPO establishments, who have at least completed two years of college. However, the Philippine National Aids Council clarified that the study was done among employees of BPO companies where a call center is just one of the many “business processes” that may carry.

The study showed that due to their environment and peer pressure, call center agents “tend to involve in risky sexual behaviors.” The study also revealed there are more call center agents who have a regular non-romantic sexual partner.

The DOH said that call center agents may be at risk of HIV due to the high risk behavior for lifestyle diseases due to cigarette smoking, substance abuse alcohol and illicit drugs, poor nutrition, inadequate exercise and unsafe sexual practices. However, the DOH is quick to point out that it is not safe to conclude that the higher prevalence of sexual risk behavior among call center workers can be attributed to working in the call centers.

The story has opened a Pandora’s Box is isssues surrounding HIV/AIDS, including the controversial DOH awareness campaign dubbed as “Ingat Lagi, My Valentine”, in February when the giving out of condoms to adult customers at a popular flower market in Manila was held. Adults who brought flowers were given brochures on AIDS prevention and vouchers to be exchanged for condoms at designated booths. The condoms were given for free by the condom distributor, DKT International. Meanwhile, the children were given lollipop candies.

The DOH insisted that condom distribution is not intended to promote the use of contraceptives but rather to encourage couples to engage in safer sex. Church leaders, however, condemned the DOH drive as “immoral” and “vulgar”. They said that instead of preventing HIV/AIDS, the DOH is in effect promoting the sex act. Education particularly on abstinence and not condom will help solve the problem on HIV/AIDS in the country, the Church leaders said.

In other related stories, during the summer vacation, the DOH deployed volunteer HIV/AIDS advocates, composed mainly of college students, who were assigned to communities in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao to educate their peers on HIV/AIDS prevention and control.

By the end of September, DOH data showed four to five people are reported with HIV daily in the Philippines. A total of 16% of reported HIV cases have AIDS, and nine out of 10 HIV cases are transmitted through sexual contact. Majority (76%) of cases are males. Moreover, overseas Filipino workers remain to be affected with HIV.

The youngest reported HIV case is two years old who contracted the virus through mother to child transmission. Some 52 children, aged two to less than 15 years old, were reported to be infected with HIV through mother to child transmission.

And in December, an indie (independent film) entitled “HIV – si Heidi, Si Ivy at si V” was premiered. It stars Jake Cuenca, Iza Calzado, Maria Isabel Lopez, IC Mendoza, among others. It is directed by Neal “Buboy” Ocampo from the script of Wanggo Gallaga – an HIV positive. The DOH co-produced the film together with Exogain Productions.