Social networking linked to HIV rise in Philippines

PHILIPPINES - Online social networking contributes to the rise in the cases of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in the country, according to a study conducted by the Department of Health.

The mushrooming of social networking sites, which cater to people looking for sex partners, has been pinpointed as one of the major factors in the rise of HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines, Dr. Eric Tayag, director of the National Epidemiology Center (NEC), told a seminar for media on HIV/AIDS Thursday.

Citing a study that the Department of Health conducted last year, Tayag said online social networking sites are creating new opportunities, particularly for men having sex with men (MSM), to meet sex partners.

"Through online networking sites, MSM can meet without fear of negative social consequences," he said.

With the Internet increasing the rates of risky behaviour, online social networking can now be included as an evolving risk factor for HIV/AIDS, Tayag said.

Health authorities list the risky behaviours contributing to the rise of HIV/AIDS in the country as not using condoms, multiple sex partners, men having sex with men and injecting drug users.

The study covered 180 MSM respondents. Of the 180 respondents, 124 admitted to using online network sites for dating and sex, while 133 said they had sex with people they contacted through online network sites. Those who engaged in sex were between the age of 14 and 36.

The mode of HIV/AIDS transmission, as well as the profile of infected persons, has changed in recent years from heterosexual intercourse to "men who have sex with men," Tayag said.

He clarified that men who engage in sex with men were not all homosexuals. "HIV/AIDS is not about being gay but about men having unprotected sex with men," Tayag said.

About 79 per cent of the respondents, or 143, claimed to have used condoms during sexual encounters but majority said they do not do it consistently.

"Not consistent use of condom is also a risk factor," said Tayag.

He said one of the reasons MSM gave for not using condoms during sexual encounters was condom unavailability.

"They said condoms were not available, some said they don't like to use them. Others claimed their partners won't allow them to use condoms or they think it's not necessary to use one. A small percentage said they do not know or they forgot to use condom," he said.

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