AFA debunks allegations made in The New Paper (TNP)
First Published: 10 July 2005
Action for AIDS would like to clarify the following issues in relation to the article, ‘They preach safety, They practise UNSAFE SEX, Now 5 Aids volunteers are HIV-positive’ by Ng Wan Ching in The New Paper on Sunday, 10 July 2005.
TNP allegation #1:
5 volunteers from the MSM Outreach Programme tested positive at the anonymous test clinic in the past 2 years.
Our investigations have revealed that only one volunteer tested positive for HIV infection after becoming a volunteer, this was possibly the individual who was interviewed in the TNP article. This does not mean that the volunteer acquired HIV infection in his role as a volunteer.
Our investigations have also revealed that the other four individuals only started volunteering some time after they were diagnosed with HIV infection.
AfA runs the Anonymous HIV testing and counselling site at which it is claimed the five tested positive. We would definitely know of volunteers who test positive, and we can therefore categorically state that at most only one of our volunteers tested positive after becoming a volunteer.
We emphasise that AfA does not require volunteers to undergo HIV testing before recruitment, or at any other juncture during their involvement with the organisation. Doing so will violate the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of HIV status, as well as the basic rights of any individual, volunteer or otherwise.
If any of our volunteers would like to have an HIV test, they are treated like any other client at the Anonymous testing and counselling site.
If any of our volunteers test positive, our response will not be to blame and chastise him or her, but to ensure that they receive the best medical and psychological support. If they express a desire to continue offering their help, we will not turn them away.
If we hear of any volunteer repeatedly engaging in high risk behaviour, we will investigate the matter and ask the person to leave the organization if the allegations are substantiated.
TNP allegation #2:
AfA does nothing to protect its volunteers.
New volunteers are screened and trained according to the needs of the projects/programmes they are involved in. Such training includes providing detailed information about sexual health and safer sex behaviour. Volunteers are expected to maintain the highest standards of personal behaviour in this regard.
Reminders and updates are periodically sent out to volunteers from the MSM Outreach Programme as well as other programmes in relation to practising safer sex and other matters.
TNP allegation #3:
“There is a possibility, no matter how remote, that these young male volunteers are coming forward because they see the MSM outreach programme as another avenue for them to meet other gay men”. Volunteers are having unsafe sex because “they can’t resist the temptation” and that “when they pull down their zips, their brains also drop”
Volunteers may have different reasons for sacrificing their time and energy to the cause of AIDS prevention. Some may have friends and loved ones who have contracted the infection and died. Others volunteer because they want to contribute to society.
We are sure that their motives are honourable and decent. Our volunteers are selfless, hardworking, committed and responsible individuals who do their best to raise awareness of safer sex and who would protect themselves and others.
To say that volunteers are willing to undergo rigorous training, selection and monitoring in order to meet others for ignoble reasons is ludicrous. There are many other much easier avenues in which individuals of any sexual orientation can meet other people.
TNP allegation #4:
‘Recently, many of the volunteers have been young, good-looking gay men below 30 years old. And they are 99% gay men.'”
The demographics of our volunteers in 3 of our programmes in which there is direct client contact as detailed in section II clearly disproves this claim.