Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Ten people “with a history of working in call centers” tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) since January this year, an official from the Philippine National Aids Council (PNAC) said yesterday.
But in a telephone interview, PNAC advocacy and education officer Dr. Susan Gregorio noted that call center agents should not be generalized as having risky sexual behaviour because of the findings.
“It just so happened that they were tested for HIV because they were applying for work abroad. There are countries that require HIV testing. They should not be discriminated. Maybe if we test the rest of the population, people from other sectors will also test positive for HIV,” she said.
Since 1984, the Department of Health’s National Epidemiology Center ((DOH-NEC) had recorded a total of 3,153 HIV and full-blown acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases.
A significant number of them involved overseas Filipino workers, particularly seafarers, who also have to undergo HIV testing as a requirement for overseas employment.
The DOH learned about the 10 new HIV cases after the clinics where they were tested reported to NEC’s HIV/AIDS Registry.
Gregorio noted that it was not known how the 10 people contracted HIV.
A source claimed that the “erratic schedule” and the good salary given to call center agents give them the opportunity to engage in “unhealthy sexual practices.”
“Most of them are young and they are in the aggressive stage of their life. Maybe some of them are under stress and they consider sex as a relaxing activity. The findings indicate that the pattern (of HIV infection) is changing. It’s now in the general population,” the source added.
The country’s anti-HIV/AIDS campaign used to be directed at commercial sex workers, men who are having sex with men and intravenous drug users. But a few years ago, the focus shifted to the “general population” amid reports that many OFWs were contracting the AIDS virus.
The government had intensified its awareness campaign about HIV/AIDS to control its spread in the general population.
According to Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, director of the DOH’s National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the NEC is now conducting a survey on the lifestyle of call center agents because of concerns over their health.
Oliveros said the initial results of the survey showed that call center agents are prone to develop hypertension and diabetes primarily because of smoking, a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet.
Oliveros admitted the survey also revealed that some call center agents have “sexually transmitted infections (STI)” prompting the NEC is looking into their sexual practices.
HIV/AIDS is a type of STI although it can also be acquired through transfusion of contaminated blood, injecting drug use or passed on from an infected mother to the child in the womb. – Sheila Crisostomo