Young male sex workers behind rise of HIV-AIDS cases in Caloocan – health officials
MANILA, Philippines — Young male sex workers can be found anywhere in Caloocan City, according to a local health officer.
Especially in slum areas, boys as young as 16 sell their bodies to men having sex with men (MSM), according to Patrick Allan Pangilinan, one of the city’s site implementation officers (SIO) for sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention and control program under the Global Fund.
Pangilinan’s statements confirm the Department of Health (DOH) finding that the high prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, which causes the acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS, in Caloocan, has been brought about by young male sex workers.
“They’re “everywhere” in the city, he said.
Gays in the different communities they have visited for counselling and testing for HIV have admitted that young men, mostly 16 to 18 years old, offer sex or “namamakla” so they could buy food and other basic needs, play computer games or have extra cash to spend on dates with girlfriends, Pangilinan said.
Some of the sex workers have also been transacting online through gay community websites such as Planet Romeo, Grinder and Manjam, he added.
Of the six cities, which have a higher prevalence rate of HIV cases than the national rate of 3.5 percent in 2013, DOH manager for AIDS/STI Gerard Belimac said in reports last week that Caloocan has become the “most problematic” because of the presence of these sex workers. Other cities were Quezon City, Manila, Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
From 0.7 percent in 2009 and 3 percent in 2011, the HIV prevalence rate in the city rose to 5.3 in 2013.
Dr. Zenaida Calupaz, the physician-in-charge of the city’s social hygiene clinic, attributed the “digital multiplication of HIV cases in the city to the sexual behavior of MSMs.”
The DOH finding was based on the 2013 Integrated HIV Behavorial and Serologic Surveillance (IHBSS) the local health office conducted among 300 men 15 years old and above who engaged in oral or anal sex with a male. This surveillance showed that 61 percent accepted payment for sex, Calupaz said.
Seventy-four percent of the MSM they surveyed were between 15 and 24 years old. Fifty-two percent of the men aged 15 to 17 years old and 65 percent of those 18 to 24 years old admitted they were paid for sex, she said.
Calupaz explained that these boys did not identify themselves as sex workers but they replied “yes” when asked if they were paid for sex.
The city health office did not have a record of male sex workers. Only 342 female sex workers were registered in the city.
Since 2009, the health office has been conducting lectures, counseling sessions and HIV testing in the city’s 188 barangay (villages) with the support of the Global Fund.
During that year, only three tested positive for HIV out of the 140 they screened.
“The number of HIV cases rose as the number of people screened increased,” Calupaz said.
Last year, 4,568 individuals were tested for HIV. Out of that number,31, all male, were diagnosed with the infection, bringing the number of HIV cases from 2009 to 2014 to 81.
From January to March this year, they have already recorded nine HIV-positive males out of the 1,383 they screened. The number is less than the 13 cases they recorded in the same period last year.
But Calupaz said it was too early to project a downward trend in HIV cases.
More people have availed of the services offered by the social hygiene clinic and the mobile visiting team because of the increased awareness on HIV.
Four site implementation officers or SIOs, each with 12 peer educators, were assigned to the different barangay. They conduct lectures on HIV/AIDS twice a month per barangay, and HIV testing and counseling with a nurse and medical technician twice a year through its mobile visiting program.
Calupaz explained that HIV testing should be done every three months because of the three-month window period.
“It’s possible that the test would not be able to detect the antibody during the first screening. After three months, the team goes back to the community to test the individuals again to make sure that the result is really negative,” she added.”
Nolan Sison, officer-in-charge of the public information office, said the city would address the high HIV prevalence rate through campaigns focusing on the youth.
His office would distribute a comic strip narrating how HIV could affect an individual, Sison said. SFM/AC
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