Singaporeans Knowledgeable About HIV/AIDS, But Stigma Remains

16 Oct

SINGAPORE : A nation-wide survey by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) showed that while Singaporeans are knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS, they are less accepting of those with the disease.

In Singapore, HIV is mainly spread through sexual activity. Yet, only one in five of those who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour – such as those who engage in casual sex or have multiple sex partners – use a condom consistently.

Some groups are concerned that many do not understand the importance of condoms in preventing HIV transmission.

“Condom use is still very much a taboo subject in Singapore, and most of the general population would relate the use of condom as a form of contraception, as opposed to preventing HIV/AIDS or even sexually-transmitted infections,” said Lionel Lee, executive director for Action for AIDS.

With the rate of sexually-transmitted infections among youths also increasing, Action for AIDS said the need to promote condom use goes beyond HIV prevention.

The survey also found that one in three are unaware that a person can be HIV positive, and still look healthy and lead a normal life.

This is a serious misconception, because it may prevent people from going for regular screenings if they engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, or they may fail to protect themselves with the use of condoms, if their sexual partners look healthy.

The survey of 1,768 people showed that although 68 per cent of the respondents agree that they cannot get HIV by simply sharing a meal with an infected individual, only 22.4 per cent or one in five will do so.

In addition, only 18.2 per cent of respondents said they will buy food from a person whom they know is infected.

But the stigma appears less for close relatives, with 54.1 per cent or over half of the respondents saying that they will care for an infected family member.

“If people are more accepting towards people with HIV, then they are more likely, should they be at risk, to come forward for testing because they may not be so fearful of being discriminated against,” said Dr Chan Mei Fen, deputy director of Research and Evaluation Department at the Health Promotion Board.

According to Action for AIDS, one way to remove the stigma is to put a face to the disease.

While recognising that individuals may be reluctant to step forward, it said that it is an important first step, and government agencies can help ease the problems of discrimination.

Over 80 per cent of respondents knew of at least two of the following preventive measures – sexual abstinence, sexual monogamy and condom use. But the level of awareness was the lowest among those aged between 18 and 29.

The HPB said previous education campaigns had been targeted at older Singaporeans, and with the new information, future efforts may be better aimed at the different groups.

The HPB plans to launch a series of awareness efforts, including a concert next month to commemorate World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1.

The concert, called “Love Amplified”, will be held on November 29, in time for World AIDS Day. Other plans include a Chinese-language drama series titled “By My Side”, jointly developed with MediaCorp. – CNA /ls

Channel News Asia

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