Husbands’ lovers may spread HIV

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How many Filipino husbands have male lovers?

If the Department of Health (DOH) is to be believed, some five percent of the nearly 700,000 Filipino men who have sex with men (MSM) are married, while 30 percent also have female sex partners, a gay rights activist said Sundday.

Jonas Bagas, network president and executive director of the TLF Share Foundation, said this segment of the MSM community was critical because it may become the “pathway” for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to spread from the gay community to the general population.

He noted that the HIV epidemic in the country was expected to worsen with five Filipinos getting infected by the virus every hour by 2015, up from one infection every two hours today.

“It’s just a question of time. If we ignore the HIV epidemic among the MSM, it could easily jump to the general population,” Bagas said during a forum on “Ending the Stigma and Discrimination on HIV and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” in Pasig City.

“The story we see on ‘My Husband’s Lover?’ That’s a reality,” said Bagas, referring to the controversial primetime TV series.

“And if we are going to apply public health to that narrative, that shows the possible pathway of the HIV epidemic to the general population,” he said.

Bagas said estimates of Filipino MSMs ranged from 390,733 to 689,529. A 2011 DOH study showed that five percent of them were married.

This means that 19,637 to 34,476 Filipino married men had sex with another man within a month before the study was conducted.

A still “unofficial” 2012 DOH study showed that 30 percent of MSMs also had a female sexual partner within six months to a year before the study was made, Bagas added.

To stop the spread of HIV among the MSM community and prevent it from spreading to the general population, Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann Rosales, Bagas and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists called on Congress to pass an anti-discrimination law.

“The Philippines is sitting on an HIV time bomb. The DOH estimates the actual number of cases is twice the reported cases, which means that every hour, one Filipino is infected with HIV. That’s pretty bad,” Rosales said at the forum.

“Compare that to where we were in 2008 when the Philippines was reporting one HIV case every year.

“The ferocity of the spread of the HIV epidemic is such that, by 2015, the DOH estimates that 36,910 Filipinos will be living with HIV. That’s 101 HIV cases every day, or five cases every hour,” she said.

Rosales and gay rights activists blamed the stigma and discrimination against LGBTs for the “fast and furious” HIV epidemic in the Philippines.

“When we stigmatize communities vulnerable to HIV, what happens is they go underground and they don’t access crucial and life-saving HIV services. This is what we mean when we say the stigma is driving the epidemic,” Bagas said.

“Because of homophobia and transphobia, MSMs and TGs find it difficult to access life-saving HIV services,” said Ruffa Torregoza of the group Gayon.

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