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14 Mar 2005

get tested: s'pore health minister to gay men

Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan defends his remarks; gay group calls for decriminalisation of gay sex acts for safer sex outreach programmes to be more effective.

Senior Minister of State for Health Balaji Sadasivan, who told Parliament last week that the surge in the number of new HIV infection cases among gay men last year could be due to the annual Nation parties, defended his comments on Sunday.

PLU3 is a working group, inspired by PLU (People Like Us) in its attempt to engage the Singapore government in constructive dialogue and seek registration as a society. It is a sexual minority rights group representing the interests of GLBT community in Singapore.
Speaking to reporters after a charity event, Dr Balaji, said that his remarks were intended to be a wake up call for gays to be tested for the virus, reported The Straits Times.

"If the gays who are at risk know about it, they can go to Kelantan Lane and get themselves tested," he said, referring to the Anonymous HIV Testing Centre, the only anonymous testing facility in the country and run by Action for AIDS.

An AfA volunteer who did not want to be named said, "Is that it - after a 4-day media blitz? What's the point for gay men to get tested, which many are doing now, only to use the info against them and 'punish' them in Parliament and in the media?"

According to figures provided by AfA, 2004 saw a 68 per cent increase in the number of MSM coming forward for screening from 748 the year before to 1,253 last year.

The former neurosurgeon's controversial comments, which caused a stir among gay circles and was widely reported by local and international news outlets, also inspired a 4-page expos in a local tabloid with descriptions of public sex acts at previous dance parties held in Singapore.

Dr Balaji added on Sunday that the country Singapore might introduce legislation to empower health workers involved in contact tracing to ask HIV patients for information on their sexual partners. Under existing regulations, HIV patients are not compelled to reveal the names of people they have been in sexual contact with.

Last year, Singapore included non-compulsory HIV testing as part of a routine medical checkup for pregnant women. The Ministry of Health also said it would also consider legislation to make sure that husbands and wives are informed of their spouse's HIV condition as well as compulsory HIV testing for the population.

Meanwhile, gay group People Like US have sent members of Parliament a letter today calling for a more integrated approach to HIV prevention and recognising the HIV issue as being a public health issue and not a "moral debate which detracts from an open, scientific and rational approach to prevention."

The letter also highlighted the continued criminalisation of gay sex acts as being a major barrier against allocating more public funds and resources towards MSM HIV prevention.

"Members of Parliament need to consider how laws must go beyond reflecting the narrow demands of a supposed moral majority to considering other critical issues like the public health implications of this law," the letter read.

Under current laws, Section 377(a) - a vestige of British Colonialism - specifically prohibits sexual relations between men. In Asia today, only Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Indian subcontinent criminalise gay sex. Hong Kong repealed similar laws in 1991 while Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan do not or no longer has laws criminalising gay sex acts.

PLU hopes for lawmakers to relook at the curernt law to allow non-government groups to actively pursue open outreach programs targeted at MSM and for MSM to participate in the programmes.


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