PNCA: Social Response/Understanding Key Affected Populations

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Logo-620x512By Victor Layug

This is the third in a series of four articles covering topics presented at the Philippine National Convention on AIDS conducted on October 19, 2012 at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros, Manila.


The second stage of the Philippine National Convention on AIDS was entitled, “Social Response,”and the first speaker was Mr. Eddy Razon of the Pinoy Plus Association. His talk was entitled, Understanding Key Affected Populations.”

Mr. Razon began by introducing himself as one who tested positive for HIV in 1999, a time when there were very few resources available to those infected, unlike now when there are numerous options available to those diagnosed. Mr. Razon also stated how the term “Most At-Risk Population” should be avoided, and in its stead, people should use the term, “Key Affected Population.”

In recent years, there has been an increase in the rise of migrant workers, or those who migrate to a different country in search of a job, who have also tested positive for HIV. While migration in itself is not necessarily known to cause HIV, those who do indeed migrate are more prone to unprotected and commercial sex.

First, Mr. Razon addressed the factors of vulnerability in the migration cycle, particularly those prior to departure. He explained that most migrants have little knowledge pertaining to HIV, AIDS and the harsh realities of migration. Coupled with the stress, cost and process of migration, as well their own poor health-seeking behaviour, this lack of knowledge made them highly vulnerable even prior to migration. With regards to health testing, however, the cost of which is shouldered by the migrant, he said that it has not been proven to deter the spread if HIV; instead, it has been known to lead to inhumane treatment.

Regarding why migrants get involved in situations that put them at risk for HIV, the main reason is because they are homesick. Being away from their loved ones does tend to leave them emotionally vulnerable, and they are forced to seek comfort through other means. That being said, there is also nothing and no one to keep their behaviour in check. Aside from it being potentially economically beneficial, they are also pressured by their peers to get involved in a relationship, be it heterosexual or homosexual. This, in turn, satisfies their need for comfort, warmth and sexual gratification.

After the long, arduous process of preparing for migration, one is usually successful in migrating to another country and finding a job, but that has its own share of factors that again might put the migrant worker at risk. There is always stress from the separation from social and personal networks at home that the migrant worker has grown accustomed to. There is also a significant amount of societal pressure that the migrant worker may experiences, being unaccustomed to the new set of norms set by the new country context.

The impacts of a migrant worker being infected with HIV are numerous, and have several lasting effects. Among the economic effects are that affected migrant workers are usually found to be unfit to work, which can then lead to a lack of choices when it comes to local employment once the worker comes home from abroad. There is also no re-integration program once the worker comes home, and the high cost of living and health care usually lead to the depletion of one’s savings.

Among the social effects is the so-called “fall from grace,” which stems from the discrimination that those infected with HIV find themselves experiencing at the hands of others. This discrimination then marginalizes the affected people, forcing them to isolate themselves in a self-policing state.

Over and above the social and economic effects of contracting HIV are also the psychological effects, which are equally devastating. Among them is the inability to disclose the information that PLHIV have indeed been infected with HIV for a number of reasons, and the inability to deal with the family’s expectations of economic support. There is also the fear of being stigmatized in general by those who are less informed about HIV, and the constant and unrelenting uncertainty about the status of one’s physical health. All these can lead to depression, fear and anger, on top of all the other crises.


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