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10 Mar 2005

press statement on s'pore minister's remarks linking HIV surge to nation parties

Fridae responds to Dr Balaji Sadasivan's remarks in parliament on Wednesday linking HIV surge to Nation parties.

March 10, 2005

On March 9, 2005, Dr Balaji Sadasivan spoke in parliament about The AIDS Epidemic in Singapore and quoted the hypothesis of an unnamed "epidemiologist who suggested that Nation parties might be linked to the sharp increase of HIV in the gay community. (click to see transcript of speech)

Fridae/Jungle Media, the organisers of the parties, rejects the claim as it is especially dangerous for a senior public health official to simplify the complex AIDS issue and to believe that a single party can contribute to the spike. It is also irresponsible to blame the rise in HIV on something like the Nation parties when the more important and larger public health issues have not been addressed.

Despite knowledge that Men who have Sex with Men are one of the most at risk groups (MARP) since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic more than two decades ago, the Ministry of Health has never once targeted any of its public health campaigns at MSM.

Despite data showing that the MSM group is facing an increase in the rate of HIV infection for several years, there has been no change in the government' s policy of not engaging MSM as a potentially higher risk group. Instead, the work of prevention education and outreach to MSMs has been undertaken largely by Action for AIDS and other community groups. Yet, these same groups are under fire for the government's own negligence.

The illegal status of gay sex has made it impossible for government agencies to work closely with the gay community to address this potential public health crisis. For example, Action for AIDS volunteers distributing safe sex material at Nation last August were told by police to stop their activities as it was "promoting illegal activities," i.e. homosexual sex.

For the past four years, Fridae has been working with NGOs such as Action for AIDS Singapore and AIDS Concern in Hong Kong in their HIV prevention outreach and fundraising activities. The Internet and meeting places such as bars, clubs and parties serve as important channels to reach what would otherwise be a hidden population.

Instead of treating HIV as an infectious disease epidemic, the Singapore government is still using HIV as a means to stigmatise and discriminate against MSM. Unless there is a comprehensive strategy that addresses prevention, care and support, and treatment issues amongst MSM, the rates of infection will continue to rise unabated in this marginalised population.

The Senior Minister had agreed last December to collaborate and work with Fridae and other MSM groups in Singapore to address this issue, but to date, none of the involved parties has been consulted on their plans nor have any of the recommendations been acted upon.

Fridae believes that the government and the Ministry of Health has to engage the gay community directly, and build trust with this community in order to put into place effective strategies that will bring down the infection rates. This cannot be achieved by misinforming the public, and not adopting basic life-saving strategies such as promoting the use of condoms.

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