HIV-Aids cases in Cebu rising, says coordinator

2/3/10 - BEHAVIORAL choices, not occupations, are what make a person vulnerable or not to the threat of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a health official said yesterday.
“It’s not who you are, but it’s what you do. The DOH (Department of Health) is not saying that call center agents are a high-risk group for HIV, but that they have high-risk behaviors that should be looked into,” said Dr. Eric Tayag, chief of the National Epidemiology Center.

At least 126 new cases of HIV were reported in the country last year, the “highest in the past 25 years,” Tayag said.

From 1984 to 2009, a total of 4,424 cases have been reported in the Philippines.
The HIV incidence in Cebu, like the rest of the country, is also rising, the City Health Department said.

Dr. Ilya Tac-an, the city’s HIV/Aids coordinator, said their monitoring showed more cases were reported in their office recently, compared to the past years.

Last year, the department recorded 11 new HIV cases in Cebu City, which was the highest compared to the previous years when the average was just four cases a year.
Most of the new patients were drug users, with seven of the 11 reported cases of HIV in 2009 caused by the sharing of needles and syringes.

Dr. Tac-an encouraged people to undergo regular HIV tests for early detection.
The Population Commission (Popcom) also clarified that a recent study did not mean to single out call center agents’ lifestyles.

Dr. Tayag and local health officials led by Dr. Susana Madarieta, DOH 7 director, met with Cebu City Acting Mayor Michael Rama yesterday morning and discussed the situation in Cebu.
Health Secretary Cabral instructed Dr. Tayag to meet with Cebu officials, the media and other concerned groups to emphasize the need to educate the public on HIV and Aids.
Not engaging in unsafe sex practices, keeping a monogamous relationship, abstaining from sex at an early age and “using condoms correctly, persistently and consistently” are still the best defenses against HIV/Aids, said Dr. Tayag.

What makes call center agents vulnerable are certain behaviors, like excessive alcohol consumption that could lead to “risky behavior like casual sex, which is easy gratification…What we are saying at this point is that call center agents are at higher risk,” he said.
In the past three years, transmission has “shifted” so that heterosexual men are no longer the most vulnerable group, but men who have sex with men, said Dr. Tayag.

Meanwhile, in reaction to a statement by Acting Mayor Rama, Popcom 7 Director Leo Rama said the study by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) was fair in comparing the lifestyles of call center agents and their peers in other industries.

The study “Lifestyle and Reproductive Health Issues of Young Professionals in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu” involved 434 call center agents in Manila, 241 call center agents in Cebu and 254 non-call center agents in Metro Manila area, for a total of 929 workers.

Most of the respondents were aged 18-34 and had at least two years of college education.
The UPPI study revealed that though call center agents in Cebu and Manila earn more than non-call center agents, they face more risks from abnormal sleeping habits, habitual drinking, illegal drug use and risky sexual activities.

But Rama of Popcom also clarified that the study is still in its initial stage, and that a clearer picture will be revealed in less than two months.
“By then, we intend to deliver our report and we will be able to present the complete study to the local government units (LGUs) concerned,” said Rama.
Presenting the studies to the LGUs is meant to help create policies to help concerned agencies and establishments, said Rama
(Sun Star)

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