Almost zero, and it’s worrying

First Published -18 Aug 2007

Many heterosexual men still ignorant of sex-related diseases

SHERALYN TAY

sheralyn@mediacorp.com.sg

THE ignorance is staggering. Many men infected with HIV know almost nothing about sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/Aids before they get infected.

According to Mr Lionel Lee, executive director of Action for Aids (Afa), focus group interviews among HIV-positive heterosexual men revealed that their level of knowledge of STIs and HIV “was almost zero”.

It is a worrying lapse that Afa hopes to address in a campaign, to be launched this weekend.

With prominent stickers at ferry terminals, outreach programmes in red light districts and flyers inside clubs, it is one of the most high profile and large-scale attempts yet to target heterosexual men at the venues where commercial or unprotected sex is likely to take place.

The “I am Responsible” campaign will communicate the importance of taking responsibility and adopting safer-sex practices, and going for regular STI/HIV screening, said Mr Lee.

Afa will also work with Indonesian non-governmental organisations on a campaign on the Riau Islands — a notoriously popular sex haunt with Singaporean men.

A record 357 Singapore residents were diagnosed with HIV last year, up 12.6 per cent from 317 cases in 2005. Of the new cases, about 91 per cent were males. Heterosexual men, contrary to common perception, still form the bulk of HIV-cases here. Last year, 60 per cent of the HIV cases were spread through heterosexual intercourse.

“This particular demographic is especially vulnerable to infection because they tend to have fewer opportunities of being exposed to accurate informationabout HIV/Aids and STIs, as well as information about condom usage and regular health screening,” said Mr Lee. To better reach Hokkienspeaking men, Afa will set up a getai-style (or song stage) performance in Geylang to coincide with the Hungry Ghost Festival. It also wants to rope in more nightspots so that safe-sex materials such as flyers, posters and condoms can be made available to their patrons.

Commenting on the Government’s plan to explore an opt-out scheme for HIV-testing for males admitted to hospitals here, Mr Lee said that while Afa is “generally supportive” of more widespread testing, it hopes the communication process will be clear.

“Testing in medical settings must therefore have an opt-out clause that is made clear to all patients before the test is done … in a language best understood by the patient,” Mr Lee said.

And medical treatment must not be compromised or delayed if the patient decides to opt out, he added.