Old report about overseas Filipino workers with HIV falsely linked to Dubai

A news report from 2011 about HIV infections among Philippine migrant workers has resurfaced in TikTok posts viewed hundreds of thousands of times that falsely linked it to Dubai. The original report -- referencing figures from the Philippine Department of Health -- did not state where the overseas Filipino workers who tested positive for the virus that year had been employed.

"Take care my countrymen," read the Tagalog-language caption of a TikTok video shared on June 10, 2024.

The video appears to show an article published by a newspaper based in the UAE -- a leading overseas destination for Filipino workers -- that is headlined, "166 Overseas Filipino Workers tested HIV positive this year" (archived link).

Overlaid text on the video states the report is "breaking news" from Al Satwa, Dubai, a small community in the United Arab Emirates' most populous city that has become a hotspot for Filipinos (archived link).

Screenshot of the false TikTok post, captured on June 19, 2024

It was shared after local media reported here that Philippine Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa had expressed concern about an alarming rise in new HIV cases in the archipelago nation (archived link here).

"The increase in new cases is really high, Herbosa said, noting that the 'very scary part' is that many young people -- as early as 15 years old -- are being diagnosed with HIV infection," read the report from ABS-CBN News.

While less than one percent of the Philippines' more than 110 million people have been diagnosed with HIV, UN data shows it has one of the world's fastest-growing epidemics (archived link).

The clip circulating on social media was also shared on TikTok here, here, and here alongside appeals for Filipinos to "ensure their protection and stay safe."

But the clip shows an article written over a decade earlier that did not mention Dubai.

Old figures

Keyword searches on Google led to the report featured in the TikTok videos on The Gulf News website, where it was published on August 31, 2011 (archived link).

The article's standfirst read, "About 166 overseas Filipino workers reportedly tested HIV positive from January to July this year".

In the false clip, "July" was changed to "May".

Below is a screenshot comparison of the false post (left) and The Gulf News' article (right), with the difference highlighted by AFP:

Screenshot comparison of the false post (left) and The Gulf News' article (right), with the difference highlighted by AFP

According to the report, the number of overseas workers who tested positive for the virus was 73 percent higher than the cases recorded for the same period in 2010.

However, the article does not mention where those HIV-positive migrant workers had worked. 

The article's author, veteran Filipino journalist Barbara Mae Dacanay, told AFP on June 18 that she had been reporting on Filipino migrant workers "in general, not from where they are based".

The article referenced data in a Philippine Department of Health report that said between January and July 2011 "there were 166 HIV positive OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), comprising 14% of cases reported for the year".

These records also did not mention where the people who tested HIV positive worked.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about HIV in the Philippines here and here.

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