09/25/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino Church opposes HIV testing for workers returning home

by Santosh Digal
According to the bishops, the obligatory test is "discriminatory", and violates individual privacy. On the basis of statistics from 2006, out of 2,566 cases of AIDS, only 891 were among workers returning from outside of the country.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The Filipino Catholic Church opposes mandatory HIV testing for all workers returning to the country from abroad. According to Fr Savino Bernardi, a representative of the Filipino bishops' conference, the proposal advanced by Senator Pilar Juliana Cayetano is "discriminatory". The religious recalls that Overseas Filipino Workers, OFWs, 10 million in all according to the latest statistics, are not the category with the highest levels of HIV and AIDS, and it has not been demonstrated that they are the main vehicle for spreading the disease.

Senator Cayetano says that there must be studies on the "sexual habits of workers abroad", because this category is responsible for "the largest number of HIV cases", and there are still no "effective programs" for resolving the question.

Last May, the national epidemiology center of the health ministry recorded 35 cases of HIV infection, 20% of them among the OFWs, and the majority of them among men. For workers abroad, all of the cases of infection took place during high-risk sexual activity. "In many cases", says the senator, "the men do not know that they are sick, and when they go back to their families, they spread the disease". Cayetano emphasizes that she does not want to promote "contraception" at all costs, but is asking for greater "awareness" among women about the risks and means of infection.

Fr Savino Bernardi responds with the results of a 2006 study, according to which out of 2,566 AIDS patients in the Philippines, only 891 (35%) belong to the category of workers abroad. 34% are sailors, 18% are domestic workers, 9% employees, 7% entertainers, and 6% health workers.

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