New command in AIDS battle

First Published – 29 Nov 2006

TWO decades and a year after the first human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases were reported in Singapore, a high-level committee has finally been formed just to look into the fight against the virus and its outcome, Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (Aids).

The formation of the committee comes just as the Health Ministry announced another 137 new HIV cases reported between July and October this year. This brings the total number of new HIV cases to 286 this year.

Chaired by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, the committee comprises representatives from seven ministries, the Communicable Disease Centre, the National Skin Centre, the Health Promotion Board, the Aids Business Alliance and Action for Aids (AFA).

The National HIV/Aids Policy Committee, which officially starts work on Dec 1, will provide guidance on all policy matters related to the condition. The issues addressed will be wide-ranging and cover anything from public health to legal to ethical to social and economic issues.

The committee has yet to meet, but Dr Balaji said yesterday: “I think the biggest issue and most important thing will be testing and I think we’ll be talking about it more over the next few months.”

The former Senior Minister of State for Health added: “The fight against Aids is going to be a long-drawn fight, so I look forward to chairing the committee.”

Applauding the Government’s latest move, which he said is long overdue, AFA president Dr Roy Chan said that the committee members share the same mission: To reduce the transmission, and enhance prevention and care of patients.

“It’s good that this is a multi-ministry, multi-sectorial effort,” he told TODAY. “In the past, Aids was thought of as a health thing but obviously there are many facets to it, so I think it’s a long time coming.”

Hopeful that some initiatives will be able to take place at the national level with the new committee, chairman of the Aids Business Alliance Mr Zulkifli Baharudin said that one of the issues that should be tackled is putting guidelines in place to ensure HIV patients can continue to work.

Since the first two HIV/Aids cases were detected in Singapore in 1985, Singapore now has 2,852 known cases. This means the rate of infection has been increasing from 0.8 per million population 21 years back to 89.2 per million population last year.

More than half of these cases – 1,716 to be exact – were reported in the last six years. According to MOH, heterosexual transmission – mostly through casual sex and sex with prostitutes – has been the most common mode of HIV transmission among Singaporeans since 1991.

Of the 42 married men reported in the first six months of this year, three of their spouses tested positive for HIV. Another 17 spouses tested negative. The HIV status of the remaining 22 spouses is pending further follow-up. Two other married women were reported in the same period, but tests for their husbands have turned out negative.

– TODAY, Tan Hui Ling, Additional Report by Sheralyn Tay