MANILA, Philippines – There seems to be a link between the rising number of smartphone users in the country and the spike in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in the Philippines, a Department of Health (DOH) official said.
Dr. Eric Tayag, director of the DOH's National Epidemeology Center, said smartphones have provided "thrill-seeking" people an even easier way to find others who are willing to engage in casual sex.
"They don't need to go to Internet cafés anymore. They now find dates and possible casual sex partners using smartphones," Tayag said.
The health official was referring to smartphone apps that allow users to "cruise" or look for persons within their locality for casual sex.
Apart from the traditional social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, popular mobile operating systems such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android have provided social networking apps specifically targeted for men looking for other men as prospective friends, dates or casual sex partners.
These apps use the smartphone's Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to show online profiles of people within someone's vicinity. These apps also allow exchanges of messages and even photos.
This kind of "fast and easy transaction" has worried Tayag, who has raised the alarm about the growing number of HIV cases among "men who have sex with men" (MSM) in the country.
Tayag said cases of HIV among "men who have sex with men" began to rise in 2007.
According to the NEC, a total of 1,089 Filipinos tested positive for HIV during the first quarter of 2013, up by 36% compared to the 799 recorded in the same period last year.
The NEC said 95% or 1,036 of the newly diagnosed patients are men, 903 of whom engaged in sex with the same gender.
The Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry, which began passive surveillance of the disease in 1984, now lists an aggregate of 12,791 cases, of which 93 percent (or 11,884 cases) were infected via sexual transmission.
Ten percent or 1,228 of the total HIV carriers were AIDS cases.
According to the latest 2012 UNAIDS report, the Philippines is one of only nine countries which continue to experience rising HIV cases. The other eight countries are Bangladesh, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, Republic of Moldova and Sri Lanka.
Tayag urged sexually active people to always practice safe sex or to stick to just one partner.
"We are exerting all effort to send our message that one should always look out for his health," he said. "It could get worse in the Philippines, but there's hope since some data being gathered show that more and more people are now using condoms."
The health official also encouraged Filipinos to get tested in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
According to Tayag, Philhealth is capable of reimbursing P30,000 annually to a person with HIV-AIDS.