September 30, 2023

The operation of commercial sex workers (CSWs) who transact online or those who work freelance increases the risk of transmission of sexually transmissible infections (STI), including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which, if left untreated, progresses to AIDS.

Compared to CSWs employed in night spots who are required to undergo periodic tests for STIs prior to the issuance of a permit to work, CSWs who transact online or via text messages and freelance workers are not monitored, hence increasing the risk of acquiring or transmitting STIs to their clients, said City Health Services Office Nurse II Gayhope Alangsab.

“Our problem are the freelance CSWs and online prostitution. Uso na ngayon ang online booking through social media and we do not have control over it; so all we can do is to increase our awareness campaign,” Alangsab said.

Baguio Association of Nightspots president Mariquin Jaurigue said the 139 members of their association help in advocating safe sex by ensuring their workers comply with the requirements of the CHSO.

She said all member nightspots are strictly implementing the “no pink/blue card, no work,” policy.

The pink (for female CSW and massage attendants) or blue (for male CSW and massage attendants) cards are forms issued by the CHSO containing information the CSWs have undergone the required tests prior to working in night spots.

Every CSW is required to submit a smear, HIV-STI test, fecalysis, drug test, and chest X-ray every six months.  Freelance sex workers on the other hand, cannot be obliged to undergo tests, Alangsab said.

The Philippines is one of the signatories to the United Nations General Assembly Political Declaration on Ending AIDS by 2030.

Despite the continuing and strengthened advocacy about how to prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs, cases continue to rise and some might not even be detected because some refuse to be tested and some do not know whom to approach to get tested, said Mikhail Taggueg of the Department of Health and concurrent coordinator of the Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI).

PSFI is a partner of the DOH in provi-ding HIV prevention strategies through advocacy campaigns and distribution of free HIV-prevention commodities such as HIV and syphilis testing kits, pre-exposure prophylaxis, anti-retroviral drugs, condoms, and lubricants.    

In the Cordillera, 1,078 cases have been recorded from March 1984 to March 2023. This excludes the newly diagnosed 25 cases in Baguio, which were recorded from January to March.

Taggueg said 90 percent of the newly diagnosed cases are men having sex with men who are between 15 and 25 years old.

Taggueg said there could be more who may already have the virus but are not yet aware. He encouraged those who are sexually active to undergo testing, practice protected sex, and stick to one partner.

“Taboo pa rin kasi ang usaping sex. Marami pa ring nahihiyang kumuha ng free commodities such as condoms or lubricants,” Taggueg said but reiterated their advocating for practice of safe sex is not equal to promoting sex culture to thrive.

He also clarified while majority of those infected are MSM, anyone, regardless of age or gender, can get infected.

“Huwag matakot magpa-check para maagapan agad. Our goal is to lessen those who die from the complications (of HIV infection),” Taggueg said.

He reiterated testing is confidential.

He said the advantage of voluntarily screening is they can immediately provide counseling and treatment to those found positive of HIV.

He also assured that with advances in medical science, those afflicted with the virus can live a long and productive life as long as they stick to their treatment regimen.

Taggueg added the current anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) have lesser side effects compared to the past ARVs.

The DOH and the CHSO will hold separate AIDS candlelight memorial ceremonies on May 29 and 30.

The event on May 29 will be held at the Saint Louis University-Center, Assumption Road and on May 30 at the Burnham Park view deck.

The memorial on May 30 will include a free testing in the same venue.

The AIDS candlelight memorial is a yearly event to remember those who died due to the complications of HIV-AIDS and a movement to remove the social stigma associated with having the infection. – Rimaliza A. Opiña