More infections noted in Surigao City as sex workers increase

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/1 Feb) – Freelance sex workers are dramatically growing in number in Surigao City, leading to an increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in 2011 compared to the previous year.

Despite the campaign to stem the cases of sex-related diseases, cases of gonorrhea and trichomoniasis among commercial sex workers in the city went up in 2011. This is reversal in contrast in 2010 in which STI cases had dramatically decreased compared to 2009.

Jessica I. Nepomuceno, social hygiene clinic nurse at the City Health Office (CHO), said there were 75 cases of gonorrhea in 2011, up from 33 cases in 2010. Cases attributed to trichomiasis doubled last year with 14 cases, compared with the seven recorded cases in 2010.

Local health officials are worried that the trend may also lead to HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) cases.

Nepomuceno said not all STI diseases increased last year though.

For example, cases of bacterial vaginosis went down to 250, compared with the 260 cases recorded in 2010.

No case of genital warts infection was recorded last year, while two cases occurred the previous year.

For STIs related to bisexual men and non gay-identified (NGI) men who engaged in sexual activity with other men, 81 cases were recorded last year compared to 79 in 2010.

Overall, Nepomuceno said the CHO recorded a total of 391 persons infected with sexually transmitted disease last year, compared to 318 in 2010.

One, she said, got infected with HIV.

She allayed fears that the infected person, who is in his mid 20s, might spread venereal disease if he will not undergo HIV counseling.

According to Nepomuceno, she cannot divulge the identity of the person because it is against the law as mandated in Republic Act 8504.

Unrecorded cases

Nepomuceno said more STI cases could have been recorded last year had all commercial sex workers submitted themselves to regular health check-up.

The previous years, she said an average of 30 commercial sex workers would submit themselves to a regular check-up but last year, they considered it lucky if they could check 10 persons.

Nepomuceno attributed this to the commercial sex workers’ migration to mining areas such as Claver town in Surigao del Norte. Claver is about 80 kilometers away from the city or about 1 hour and 30 minutes by public transport.

In this area, commercial sex workers would resort to “akyat barko,” or get themselves in to the ships, to service seamen.

And because the city is far, they would go to a hygiene clinic only when they visit the city.

City councilor Bienvenido P. Zabala Jr., chairperson of the committee on health, said commercial sex workers have become fewer in night clubs in Surigao City.

He said that they should be monitored because they might be infected by seamen from the ships that roam the world.

Another problem

But freelance sex workers in the city have become more prevalent, though the CHO can’t give a definite number.

Unlike in the past years, Nepomuceno said sex workers are getting visible. In Bilang-Bilang, pimps are getting aggressive in going after every passerby.

Nepomuceno said these sex workers are not monitored nor do they go to clinic regularly and have themselves checked by hygiene officers.

Owners of night establishments, on the other hand, are required to have their workers checked regularly.

“I warned those persons, especially those with ‘risky behavior,’ not to engage in this kind activity” because they might suffer later with contagious diseases, Nepomuceno said.

She added that even the use of condom may not fully guarantee in preventing the transmission of the diseases.

Self medication

Nepomuceno urged other individuals who have STI not to resort to self medication.

Those with STI, she noted, tend not to reveal their affliction, ashamed of what they have done. But the more they hide their case, the more they put themselves in a complicated world and in danger, she said.

She feared that taking drugs over the counter may worsen one’s condition because the drug might result to different reactions that may harm the body instead. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)