Action for AIDS Responds to Comments from Senior Minister of State for Health

First Published –  13 Nov 2004

We refer to comments made by Senior Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan about a potential HIV/AIDS epidemic in Singapore reported on 11 November 2004 and 12 November 2004.

In the reports, Dr Balaji Sadasivan is reported as quoting one sentence in the Action for AIDS website ”Not everyone who has sex with an infected person will get infected” to suggest that we mislead the readers.

We would like to clarify that this statement from the Question and Answer page is part of the answer to a very commonly asked question “Does everyone who comes into contact with HIV get infected?” and was quoted out of context.

The best medical and scientific evidence to date puts the risk of becoming infected with HIV from a single unprotected episode of vaginal or anal sex at less than one per cent. This is the basis of the statement in our Website.

The statement has never figured prominently in any of our print or publicity material we distribute for the very reason Dr Sadasivan has mentioned we do NOT want to enccourage risk behaviour. As part of the response to this question and also in responses to other questions on that same webpage, we emphasise that unprotected sex IS high risk, we discourage unsafe sexual practices, we discourage young people from having sex, and we specify clearly what constitutes and does not constitute unsafe sex.

We shall, however, review the statement in our web page based on the concerns he has expressed.

Dr Sadasivan also highlights that there has been a sharp rise in HIV transmission rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Singapore. He correctly identifies AfA as the organisation that has been working tirelessly with this group to raise HIV-related awareness, increase health-seeking behaviour and reduce transmission rates.

It is heartening to note that as a result of our education programme, the number of MSM coming for voluntary anonymous HIV testing has been steadily rising from 541 in 2001 to 639 in 2002, 748 in 2003, and 990 in the first 10 months of 2004. This indicates that our efforts to reach out to those with high risk behaviour to be responsible and get tested is working. We believe that this has been the main contribution to the increase in detection of cases in the MSM population. We are intensifying our efforts to further reduce unsafe behaviour in this group.

Yet we must remember and reiterate that heterosexual males with HIV/AIDS far outnumber MSM, and efforts to reduce HIV transmission in this group must also be intensified. Heterosexual males must be made more aware of risk reduction measures and must be encouraged to test for HIV infection voluntarily. Myths of HIV/AIDS being a “gay disease” need to be dispelled to prevent a false sense of complacency among heterosexuals.

Over the last 16 years AFA has tried to address the multitude of issues surrounding AIDS as comprehensively as possible. Our programmes cover prevention, education, awareness-raising, and care and support for HIV-infected and affected people. We advocate against the discrimination of HIV-infected people, and encourage self-help peer support groups for those infected with HIV. We offer medication subsidies to improve access to life-prolonging medication, including medication to HIV-positive pregnant women to reduce the risk of transmission to their unborn children.

For the last decade we have been running the anonymous HIV testing and counselling centre where individuals can test without worrying about their HIV status being revealed to others without their consent.

Our HIV/AIDS education programmes are targeted to the workplace, schools, women, the Malay/Muslim community, freelance sex workers, foreign workers, religious organisations, prisons, and other segments of the population. This is complemented by the development of educational material and the organising of awareness-raising events.

AfA has also been regularly organizing national AIDS conferences in conjunction with the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The next one is the 4th Singapore AIDS conference, which we are also involving the Singapore Red Cross and the Society of Infectious Diseases, on 27th and 28th November 2004 at Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre. Much effort has been put in to ensure that the conference will address the diverse and complex issues related to HIV/AIDS in Singapore, including those pertaining to vulnerable groups, healthcare workers, caregivers and volunteers, and persons living with HIV/AIDS, in an honest and holistic manner.

Action for AIDS would like to emphasise that the fight against HIV/AIDS should not be seen as the responsibility of AfA or public health agencies only. HIV’s attack on our community requires a concerted multi-sectoral approach involving the whole of Government, private corporations and the public. Everyone has a role to play to educate themselves and others close to them about the need to protect themselves from HIV.

Brenton Wong
Vice President
Action for AIDS, Singapore

Roger Winder
Programme Director
Action for AIDS, Singapore

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