Number of New AIDS Cases Increase in 2004 in Singapore, Especially Among MSM, Health Minister Says
The number of new AIDS cases reported in Singapore in 2004 increased to 311, almost 30% more than the number recorded in 2003, Dr. Balaji Sadasivan, senior minister of state for the city state's Ministry of Health, said in parliament on Wednesday, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. About 90% of the new cases were among men, with about 33% among MSM, Balaji said, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. There are about 2,000 HIV-positive people in Singapore. Balaji said there was a "sharp" increase in the number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men and that there could be 4,000 to 8,000 HIV-positive people living in Singapore who are unaware of their status, according to the AP/Yahoo! News (AP/Yahoo! News, 3/9). Balaji also said that heterosexual, married men who engage in casual sex put themselves and their wives at risk of contracting HIV, adding, "If we do not act to protect women, many women will get infected, and we too will have a situation where women form the majority of AIDS patients," Channel News Asia reports. He said the city state needs to eliminate the stigma of HIV testing and prevent discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients (Channel News Asia, 3/9).
Gay Festival Contributing to Rise?
Balaji on Wednesday said that a popular gay and lesbian festival might be contributing to the increasing number of new AIDS cases in Singapore, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. "We do not know the reasons for the sharp increase of HIV in the gay community," he said, adding, "An epidemiologist has suggested that this may be linked to the annual predominantly gay party in Sentosa, the Nation party, which allows gays from high-prevalence societies to fraternize with local gay men, seeding the infection in the local community." However, he said the idea only is a hypothesis and "more research needs to be done by the experts" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/9). Gay advocates "responded with outrage and disbelief" on Thursday to Balaji's comments, Reuters reports (Reuters, 3/10). "These statements serve to fuel homophobia and discrimination in this country," Stuart Koe, CEO of Fridae.com, which organizes the festival, said (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/9). Koe criticized the government for not targeting MSM in public health campaigns, saying, "It's really no wonder that the rates of infection are increasing." He added, "It's very simplistic and dangerous of them to point the finger at one single event and say that that is responsible for the spike" (Reuters, 3/10).
Mandatory Screening of Pregnant Women
Singapore's government also is considering a measure to require all pregnant women to undergo HIV testing in order to achieve 100% screening, Balaji told parliament on Wednesday, Kyodo/Yahoo! News reports (Rahil, Kyodo/Yahoo! News, 3/9). Currently, all pregnant women are offered the option of HIV testing, and about 77% of pregnant women are tested for HIV (Xinhuanet, 3/9). Balaji in December 2004 announced a plan to test all pregnant women for HIV -- unless they opt out of it -- in hopes of stemming the spread of the disease. However, he said that the ministry would consider implementing compulsory HIV testing for all pregnant women if the rate of women who opt out of testing and the number of infants born with HIV in Singapore are both high (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/17/04). Testing pregnant women is important because measures can be taken to help reduce the risk of an HIV-positive pregnant women transmitting the virus to their fetuses, according to a health ministry spokesperson (Kyodo/Yahoo! News, 3/9).
HIV Test Kits
The government also is considering making over-the-counter HIV test kits available, Balaji told parliament on Wednesday, Reuters/Yahoo! News reports. "This will allow those at risk to test themselves," he said (Reuters/Yahoo! News, 3/9). "If those with HIV are diagnosed early, they could receive treatment early and hence minimize the development of complications," Balaji said. The efforts are part of the ministry's attempts to destigmatize HIV testing, Singapore's Today reports. "Those who test positive for HIV should lead normal lives in society," Balaji said (Tan, Today, 3/10).