12/01/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES - ASIA
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Philippines, HIV infections on the rise among young people and migrants

by Santosh Digal
In advance of the world day against AIDS, a forum has been held, dedicated to young people. Activists emphasize that there is "awareness" of the risks related to the disease, but there is a lack of "concrete initiatives to prevent infection." AIDS cases are on the rise among migrants, who are often unable to get medical care.

Manila (AsiaNews) - December 1 marks the celebration of the 21st world day for the fight against AIDS. The epidemic is still claiming millions of victims all over the world, and the Philippines is one of the countries hardest hit, among the young population as also among the migrants, who have moved abroad seeking work.

For this reason, on November 28 and 29 more than 30 Filipino young people met in Quezon City, a town near Manila, to participate in the National Young People’s Planning Forum, during which they proposed plans to combat the disease, ways to limit infection, and the medical care provided to prevent the virus from becoming full-blown AIDS.

Irene Fellizar, one of the promoters of the forum and the president of Lunduyan Foundation Inc., says that young people and children are most at risk, and precisely for this reason it was decided to "organize an event for young men and women between the ages of 15 and 24." She affirms that the young people are "aware of the risks related to the disease," but says that "theoretical knowledge must be translated into practical actions, or into daily habits that permit the prevention of infection." "The campaign of prevention must be promoted," continues Irene Fellizar, "so that people may understand what behaviors are at risk and may take the appropriate measures": monthly cases of HIV have "tripled since 2005."

The alarm issued by the activist has been heard by the young people, who confirm their interest in learning more about AIDS and about promoting effective solutions: "In the province of Iloilo [editor's note: in the southern Philippines], we have launched a radio program," says Marcos de Castro, 21, a university student, "during which young people can participate and discuss violence against women, rape, HIV and AIDS, and analyze how much these factors may affect a susceptible age group like our own."

The risk of HIV infection is constantly on the rise among migrant workers as well, who are going to various southeast Asian countries in search of new work opportunities. For this category, the problem is twofold, because often they have no possibility of accessing medical care or therapies because of the lack of adequate health coverage. The denunciation comes from a recent report by the United Nations, according to which national health treatments do not include the migrant population: in Thailand, for example, they have the right to health service at a fixed price, but treatment for HIV is not included. Those who test positive for the disease in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei are immediately sent back home.

An initial solution to address the problem is being tried in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, and Vietnam, countries with high emigration rates: the citizens, before they leave, participate in "formation seminars" on ways to prevent HIV infection. The initial results show, however, that the initiative has not been very effective, because the courses come too late and are too short relative to the time necessary to develop specific knowledge of the disease.

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