Saturday, July 21, 2018
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At Large

When her husband has a lover

Old information material on HIV/AIDS used to contain warnings against certain “types” of people, including sex workers, gay men and even overseas workers, allegedly because they were “prone” to certain behaviors that made them vulnerable to infection and complicit in the spread of the disease.

But how to explain the spread of the disease among “straight” people, particularly the wives of overseas workers and even of ordinary men, who were getting infected with HIV even if they did not have multiple sex partners or engage in other dangerous behaviors?

The answer was that it wasn’t their characters or behaviors that explained their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Instead, it was their circumstances, particularly their difficulty in “negotiating” with their sex partners for safe sex. In other words, wives of overseas workers found it difficult, if not distasteful or dangerous, to insist that their returning spouses or partners use a condom before sexual contact. In much the same way that women sex workers were leaving themselves vulnerable because they had no power to insist on condom use with their clients. That is, until proprietors of sex establishments began implementing a “condom use” policy in an effort to halt the march of AIDS.


That seems to have been validated by findings of the Department of Health that “five percent of the nearly 700,000 (about 35,000) Filipino men who have sex with men (MSM) are married, while 30 percent also have female sex partners.”

Jonas Bagas, network president and executive director of the TLF Share Foundation, was quoted in the news article that reaching this segment of the “MSM community” was critical because these men could become the “pathway” for the spread of HIV/AIDS to the general population. If they haven’t already paved the way, that is.

* * *

The first thought that popped up in my mind upon reading the story was that there is more to the melodrama of the series “My Husband’s Lover” than is immediately sensed.

There is more than just heartache and betrayal when a woman’s supposedly faithful spouse has fallen in love with another man. There is also risk—the risk of her getting infected with HIV/AIDS when she engages in unsafe (that is, conventional, unprotected) sex with her husband.

She may be the faithful, forgiving wife, upright in her behavior, but she could still get infected with not just HIV/AIDS but other sexually transmitted diseases when her husband chooses to seek a little nookie on the side. And how could she even begin to negotiate for condom use when he conceals his sexual proclivities from her? How is a woman to know?

The Philippines, it is said, is one of a few countries in the world where the number of new HIV infections has been rising. Other countries, Thailand comes to mind, may still have more people living with HIV, but they have succeeded in reducing the number of new infections. Filipinos have long been complacent with the so-called “low and slow” spread of the disease here. But that is no longer true. One Filipino is infected with HIV every two hours today, with the incidence rising to five every hour by the year 2015, if present trends continue.

* * *


How did other countries manage to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS?

In the first place, health authorities stopped identifying and concentrating surveillance on “at risk” populations, such as the aforementioned sex workers, gays and overseas workers. Dr. Meechai, the Thai health authority who helped spread the word about HIV/AIDS in his country, said they discarded the concept of “at risk” populations early on, choosing instead to campaign among the general population, educating schoolchildren on safe sex and removing the stigma against condom use.

But in the Philippines, it seems, men having sex with men still receive an outsize share of public attention and concern. This may have some public health justification. MSM still make up a large portion of new HIV infections here.

In fact, at a recent forum on HIV, Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann Rosales, Bagas, and other LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists called for the passage of a long-pending antidiscrimination (based on gender) bill.

They blamed the “stigma and discrimination” common in this country against the LGBT community for the rising spread of HIV in this country. Said Bagas: “When we stigmatize communities vulnerable to HIV, what happens is they go underground and they don’t access crucial and life-saving HIV services.” And when HIV is driven underground (health authorities say the true number of HIV cases here is double that of current figures), it flourishes unchecked and undetected.

* * *

I do have some questions, though. It’s all very well to hold the hands of MSM, encouraging them to go for confidential testing and to access treatment.

But what about the wives and partners of these MSM? Unless the men are likewise convinced to talk truthfully to their wives and other sex partners about their HIV status, then the women will remain in not-so-blissful ignorance, helpless to act on their own behalf. And when they decide to look for a little something-something, they may spread the virus without their even knowing.

Of course, sexual honesty and openness about one’s sexuality remain rare in our buttoned-up society. But sexual infidelity, with whatever sex, is common enough, it seems, to have earned a teleserye of its own, winning sky-high ratings in the process.

Maybe one of the lovers in “My Husband’s Lover” needs to start living with HIV before our eyes are finally opened and we start moving on this deadly disease.

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TAGS: Department of Health, HIV/AIDS, news, sex workers
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