Social media contributes to rise of HIV among men in PH

In the Philippines, online social networking contributes to the rise of HIV among men who have sex with other men -- spurring efforts by the government to help curb the problem

MANILA, Philippines – Does online social networking use increase the risk for HIV among men having sex with other men in the Philippines?

Men having sex with other men (MSM) have become the new face of HIV/AIDS in the country. Over the years, since HIV was first detected in the country in 1984, the face of the virus has changed from female to males, heterosexuals to homosexuals.

To curb the growth of the virus in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) has studied behaviors and causes of the rise of HIV among MSM. One study conducted by the DOH in 2011, zoomed in on the effect of online social networking (OSN) in spreading the virus.

The report, summarized by DOH Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag in an HIV forum on Monday, December 3, showed that among MSM, online social networking contributes to the rise of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines.

82 sex partners a year

Tayag said that MSM are attracted to online networking sites for various reasons.

He said it created new opportunities to meet sex partners, and that MSMs can do just that without fear of negative social consequences. Tayag added that “meeting via the Internet equals higher rates of sexual risk behaviors.”

The study conducted by the DOH surveyed 180 respondents, most of whom (67%) said they use online sites for both dating and sex. Majority of the respondents (74%) said they had sex with people they had met online.

While Facebook was still the favored site for dating, other sites like Planet and chat rooms were popular choices for men to find sexual partners. Finding a sexual partner online, respondents said, could take anywhere between 5 minutes to over a day.

The ease at which men find sexual partners online is evident by the number of sexual partners reported by respondents — some said they had up to 500 sex partners a year. The average number of sexual partners from online social networking sites was pegged at 82.

Online hookups have also seen younger men engage in sex. Those who had sex with men they met on social networking sites were between the ages of 14-36.

Causes of HIV

While respondents engaged in riskier behavior that increased the likelihood of getting infected, the consistency of condom use was low.

Of the 180, 159 respondents said they engaged in both oral and anal sex — most of whom were both oral and anal inserters and receivers. Only 2% said they have never had oral sex, while a low 7% denied having tried anal sex.

A significant 79% said they use condoms, but majority of those, 68%, said they used condoms consistently.

Men who have sex with other men engage in riskier practices as they grow older. But while practices like anal sex have increased over the years, the use of condoms have not seen a rise in the same amount of time, and instead have remained constant.

Aside from the high prevalence of unsafe behaviors among key populations at risk like MSM, other drivers of the HIV epidemic in the country include the widening financial gap to ensure universal access to prevention and treatment, below target prevention coverage, growing number of areas that are vulnerable, and legal barriers that disallow agencies to help those at risk.

The lack of information has also perpetuated the epidemic. MSM reported fear of getting tested, some feel they don’t need it, while others said they don’t know where to get tested.

DOH efforts

Tayag said the study reiterated the fears of the DOH and what they had already known to be true.

The challenge now, he said, is to focus on key populations and areas, since they know where the problem lies. Tayag was positive that the Philippines would be able to reverse trends if acted upon.

They know the behaviors that exist, they know that men find men online and have sex, and their role now is to help MSM practice safer sex.

Tayag cited government efforts that are seeking to mitigate effects which included international commitments like the Millennium Development goals, roadmaps, the RH bill, assessments of vulnerability in different areas, and even PhilHealth packages.

“Our investments will go more for prevention that treatment and systems,” he said. “We want this to happen in the country, zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.” – Rappler.com

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