September 4, 2009
Men -- chiefly seafarers -- returning from contract work abroad accounted for 35 percent of new HIV infections in the Philippines last year, according to the country's National AIDS Council.
"The confluence of 'mobile men' with money away from family and social connections and with the interaction with local communities and other mobile populations make for a heightened HIV-vulnerable setting," says Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, vice president of the Asian Development Bank. About 350,000 Philippine seafarers work overseas and comprise 20 to 40 percent of the world's seafarers, according to government data.
Sexual contact with an infected person accounts for about 90 percent of HIV cases among Filipinos. In response, organizations have launched educational programs aimed at seafarers before, during and after overseas trips. The programs include lectures on HIV/AIDS, free condoms, and voluntary counseling and testing services.
Some 90 percent of the 1.7 million Asian women living with HIV were infected by their husbands or long-term boyfriends, according to an estimate by UNAIDS. About 5.4 million people in the Asia-Pacific region have HIV/AIDS, and about 640,000 people there have died of complications related to the disease, according to the UN.
HIV/AIDS can inflict a related economic hardship on families affected by the disease: Most Filipino shipping companies, as well as other firms, will not employ someone who is HIV-positive.