Rate of Voluntary HIV Testing Unchanged in Singapore Despite Expanded Access to Rapid HIV Tests
The number of people who voluntarily took HIV tests in Singapore in 2007 did not improve despite increased access of rapid HIV testing kits to more than 60 clinics, Singapore's Today reports. The country's Ministry of Health on Tuesday announced that only 13% of the 422 newly recorded HIV cases in 2007 were detected through voluntary testing -- the same rate as 2006. About 73% of cases were detected through standard HIV blood tests, which were conducted concurrent with other medical care (Tan, Today, 5/2).
The Ministry of Health in July 2007 announced a program to expand the use of rapid HIV testing kits to more clinics in the country. Although rapid-test kits, which cost about $50 each and take about 20 minutes, were used at more clinics, anonymous testing was available only at the three clinics participating in the pilot program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/30/07). Tan Sze Wee -- CEO of Rockeby Biomed, which supplies the rapid HIV testing kits -- said he believes that "if there are more anonymous testing sites, the take-up rate of voluntary testing would go up." According to Today, about half of the 400 to 500 test kits sold by Rockeby monthly are sold to the three anonymous testing clinics.
Some physicians said that the lack of anonymity in HIV testing is often cited as a reason for why voluntary screening is not popular, but they added that ignorance and fear are larger factors. Chua Thiam Eng, who runs one of the three clinics that offers anonymous testing, said, "The difference between HIV and other illnesses is that you face greater risk of isolation, loneliness and even abandonment," Chua said, adding, "Many of the patients who come forward know they are at risk, and it takes a lot of courage to be tested." Wong Tien Hua, a general practitioner at an Anchorvale clinic, said that education campaigns concerning voluntary testing is needed for people at a higher risk of transmission. He added that the efficacy of such campaigns is evident because the number of tests performed increases each time there is any publicity on HIV/AIDS.
Chua said he is not sure if a new law recently approved by Singapore's Parliament would increase voluntary testing rates. The law would make it a crime for people who have reason to believe that they might be HIV-positive to have sex without informing their partners of the risk (Today, 5/2).