Most young girls dream about having their first boyfriend.
And Kathy (not her real name) is no different.
But the 12-year-old, who was born with HIV, fears that her condition will get in the way of any romance in the future.
“I want to have a crush and have a kid without thinking about (my condition). But I’m really scared to have a boyfriend because I know that I can give other people HIV,” she said.
Kathy was adopted when she was two or three years old, but she does not remember how her adoptive mother told her that she was HIV positive.
Her story is one of the case studies about young people living with HIV that is featured by Paint The Town Red (PTTR), a campaign that aims to tackle misinformation and the stigma of HIV. (See report, right.)
Kathy’s story was collected through anonymous questionnaires administered by PTTR with the help of non-governmental organisation Action for Aids (AFA).
AFA general manager Sumita Banerjee said they are seeing more people below the age of 30 years testing positive for HIV.
Last year, 46 per cent of those who tested positive at AFA were below the age of 30, an increase from 33 per cent in 2014.
Health Ministry statistics show that in 2014, there were a total 456 new cases of HIV reported among Singapore residents.
Of that number, 91 were cases of patients below the age of 30 living with HIV. Of these, seven were aged 15 to 19, and 84 were aged 20 to 29.
Ms Banerjee said: “(The number of HIV positive patients below 30 makes up) almost 20 per cent, which is quite high, and it includes only those who are getting tested.
“Globally and particularly in Asia, one of the worrying trends is the growing infection rates among young people. HIV prevention and control programmes should take this into account.”
She added that apart from the stigma of having the disease, younger people face challenges with medical expenses, lifelong treatment and reproductive options.
“Young people entering the workforce might have misconceptions about their employment options. These are just some of the challenges in addition to the emotional aspect,” she said.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist, said the number of teenage patients testing positive for HIV at his clinic has increased over the past few years.
It used to be one or two cases every four years, but he now sees the same number in just a year.
“Every HIV patient is one too many for me,” said Dr Leong.
LACK OF MATURITY
He said that young HIV patients might not have the maturity to grasp the concept of being diagnosed or coping with the virus and it can be an “emotional disaster”.
He added that teenagers might not also have the means to pay for their HIV medication.
In the questionnaire, Kathy said: “I want to be married though. I want three kids… But how can I do all of that when I have HIV?”
She added that she has heard comments about how “people like (her) shouldn’t even be on this earth” and she said she feels hurt and angry because she isn’t “like all the other girls”.
Child psychiatrist Brian Yeo said that a child’s reaction to being diagnosed with HIV is largely based on external factors.
Dr Yeo said: “If the community is understanding, there might be few external consequences besides medication.
“But if people around, like teachers or parents of other children, are less tolerant, then it might affect the child. It could cause them to have self esteem issues as well as difficulty socialising.”