Singapore’s HIV-Positive Left Homeless, Without Drug Therapy
A lack of government funding and a "tremendous stigma" attached to HIV/AIDS have left many AIDS patients in Singapore without housing, Reuters/Inside China reports. The government-run Communicable Disease Center, which treats all of the nation's HIV/AIDS patients, estimates that approximately 10 HIV-positive people annually end up on the streets. Action for AIDS, the capital city's main AIDS organization, has attempted for three years to find shelter for those who are not well enough to work or have been shunned by their relatives, but a lack of resources has hampered its efforts. The organization has resorted to renting rooms in "budget hostels" for homeless AIDS patients, because operating a halfway house without government subsidies is too expensive. In addition, the agency has "other demands," such as education and prevention, according to AFA President Roy Chan. Since 1985, 1,325 people out of a population of four million have contracted HIV, most of them middle-aged heterosexual men who contracted the virus through casual sex or sex with prostitutes. Most Singaporeans are aware of the means of HIV transmission, but discrimination is common. "Basically the notion is -- they deserve it," George Bishop, a health psychologist at the University of Singapore, said. One reason the stigma can be so strong, Bishop said, is because people can "truthfully say they don't know anyone with HIV or AIDS." People with HIV/AIDS are "essentially a kind of abstract concept," he added. Only one AIDS activist, Paddy Chew, who died in August 1999, has publicly announced his serostatus. The discrimination is extended by the government, which affords no legal protection to HIV/AIDS patients and does not fund the "day-to-day" operations of AIDS support groups. Hong Kong, which has had 1,545 reported infections since 1985, by comparison has set up a government AIDS Trust Fund and administers AIDS medications "nearly free" at public hospitals. AIDS patients are also protected under a Disability Discrimination Ordinance. Hospital costs and "basic" medication for HIV/AIDS patients at Singapore's CDC center are funded by a government grant for the "poverty-stricken." But the government, which limits spending to treatments that are of "proven value and offer the best chance of recovery at reasonable cost," does not offer subsidies for AIDS drugs, which cost between $730 and $1,015 a month, as it classifies the drugs as "non-standard." Without government subsidies, less than a third of the country's HIV-positive citizens are able to afford medication (Reuters/Inside China, 3/19).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.