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15 Dec 2007

health authorities and MSM community must co-operate to combat HIV in singapore: minister balaji

Citing Sydney's success in reducing HIV prevalence rates among MSM, Dr Balaji Sadasivan urged for greater co-operation among health authorities, the NGOs and the MSM community to reduce HIV infection rates.

Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on HIV/AIDS, urged for greater co-operation among health authorities, the NGOs and the MSM community to reduce HIV infection rates.

The Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts was the guest of honour at the HOPE (HIV Outreach: Prevention & Empowerment) concert held at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre on Thursday night.

Los Angeles-based gay Christian pop duo and real life couple Jason and deMarco was barred by the Singapore authorities from performing in 2005.
According to organisers, the event which featured Los Angeles-based gay Christian pop duo and real life couple Jason and deMarco, and local performers including John Lee, Hossan Leong, Selena Tan, nominated Member of Parliament Eunice Olsen, and hosts Chua Enlai and Mistevious.

"We have waited two years for this," quipped Jason, one-half of the duo who was barred by the Singapore authorities from performing in 2005. Concert organisers Safehaven, a ministry of gay-affirmative Free Community Church, had tried to organise a similar event with the duo but had their application turned down by the Media Development Authority.

The number of new HIV infections is on rise with an estimated 30 percent of the 356 newly detected cases of HIV cases between January and October this year contracted through male-to-male contact. The number will surpass last year's record of 357 of which 26 per cent were MSM.

The former Senior Minister of State for Health told the audience that there has been a resurgence in the prevalence rates of HIV among MSM communities in the west while in some Asian cities, one in four MSM are testing positive for HIV. He cited Sydney as an example of a city which has bucked the trend and which Singapore can take lessons from.

"In Australia... particularly the city of Sydney, the prevalence of HIV has been low and what is more remarkable it has been going down in the MSM community over the last decade," he said.

"The way they seem to have achieved this is through co-operation between the health authorities, the NGOs and the MSM community working together to create a culture of safer sex and regular HIV testing. If we can follow the Sydney model in Singapore and work together - the health officials, the NGOs and the MSM community - there's no reason why we cannot achieve what they have done in Sydney - low prevalence rate, in fact, decreasing prevalence rate."

In July this year, Dr Balaji had gone on a study trip to Sydney, accompanied by health officials and representatives from AFA, Fridae and Oogachaga, a gay and lesbian affirmative counselling agency.

Although it was not advertised in the programme, People Like Us - a group dedicated to public education and equal treatment for gay and lesbian citizens - took the opportunity to honour Reverend Dr Yap Kim Hao with the inaugural PLU (People Like Us) Dignity Award.

Reverend Yap, who currently serves as Pastoral Advisor to the Free Community Church, is known to be an outspoken supporter of the LGBT community - speaking publicly and writing frequently to the press.

The 78-year-old told Fridae in an interview: "I have been doing what comes 'naturally' in my continuing concern for the minorities who are being discriminated because of their race, religion, economic condition, gender and sexual orientation. It is my conviction that God loves and cares for such people more because they are being 'sinned against' by those who are politically powerful and economically dominating."

"The gathering of over 900 predominantly LGBT people at the Hope concert with (mostly) gay talented artistes is a significant milestone in the struggles for gay acceptance in what has often been regarded as a conservative Singapore society. It is to pledge to combat HIV/AIDS and to engage in safe and responsible sex. To be safe is to be responsible for we have to do what we believe to be morally right for ourselves, partners and human community."


Reader's Comments

1. 2007-12-15 08:28  
I posted this in another article but I felt the the issue is of grave importance. The MSM HIV issue is just the tip of the iceberg. There are simply too many of us not tested regularly or worst still, not at all. And many finds that talking about HIV is a great turn-off at any situational conversation. I even come across people whom do not want to be seen at the AFA test centre as they are worried that friends will think that they have contracted HIV.

In my life, I have never come across so many people that I know inflicted with the virus, and it is at an alarming rate. To make matters worst, many of the people that I know, which should also represent the people that you know, have the notion that :

1. The younger lot are fresh from the farm and should be safe.
2. Don't want to know as ignorance is bliss.
3. Don't want to live so long as being old is miserable for gays.
4. He is too gorgeous to have HIV.
5. Since nobody cares, infect more till the message gets through.

Now, many still argue that from all reports, the main % of infection comes from the heterosexuaL. THIS IS VERY MISLEADING as it represent the overall poplulation. If we do have the statistic presented in another way, say 10% of the gay population and 0.000001% of the heterosexual population, what does it shows ?

In reality, nobody can present the true statistic in that way as nobody really knows what is the true gay population in any country. Besides, presenting the truth will further make others have the notion that it is a gay plague.

A note to those who believe indulge in the reckless lifestyle. Of my interest in HIV issue, I did my legwork and have found groups of people who engage in unsafe orgies in the region and countless young unrestrainted young men are infected exponentiatly. It sad that it seems that the young are more vulnerable.

It's really scary out there. We need to help those infected and prevent further infections. We must start helping ourselves before it is too late.
2. 2007-12-15 09:22  
It's not just an issue of preventing new infections of HIV. It is also a matter of accepting those with HIV as friends and potential partners. HIV+ for four years now, I have had people refuse to be my sexual partners and friends. HIV- human beings can isolate you socially and physically when they learn you are HIV+.

Let's stop these new infections from happening. But let's also stop the loneliness, despair and suicides from spreading as well. I have heard other HIV+ individuals say that they wanted to infect as many people as possible, the result of being scorned and rejected by society. I don't agree with this course of behavior. But society will only have itself to blame if it insists on labeling HIV+ individuals as diseased animals only worthy of getting sick and dying.
3. 2007-12-15 12:49  
I am very happy measures taken by HOPE to reach out to the LGBT community. We must realize that MSM contract the HIV virus via the various sexual activity they engage in. Some of these activities are taboo to some Asians. There is a lack of knowledge regarding HIV among MSM and the general community itself. Everyone should practice safe sex especially during anal sex and even oral sex if possible. There are flavoured condoms now to assist oral sex. One small accident or negligence could cost your life. Porn industry should also set an example by using condoms always and viewers should think and do not imitate the raw and unprotected activity they see.Please be safe.God bless you all.
4. 2007-12-16 00:43  
bali ? or jakarta ? maybe lot hot man in lapangan banteng district

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9. 2007-12-16 08:29  
Another two of the my friends confessed to me that they are are infected by their boyfriends. This make the total number of my friends infected at 9 and their age is between 19 and 40, at their prime. Its so worrying.

The lack of knowledge, as mentioned by Post #3 gboymas_18, is due to the stigma attached to the suffers, which in turn is caused by various conservative religious organisations, governments, and even the human right groups. Many Religious Leaders still associate HIV with homosexuals and prostitiution. The governments are worried to go against them as the people running governments are influenced by these leaders, or are afraid that losing their support means losing votes. The so call human rights groups are against compulsory testing. which could help early detection, treatment and prevention. It is a chain effect, which is very difficult to break.

We have sex in order to reproduce for our own specie survival. One of the mode of transmission is sex and the virus attack this very activity, and yet many organistions and culture view the discussion of sex issue taboo.

What epidemic proportion should the HIV issue become in order for all these groups to realise that human race is facing disaster ??

BTW, who is this moron agus38lee.
10. 2007-12-16 10:50  
In response to gymhotbod,

My point is: it's not only the religious organizations and conservative governments who are attaching the stigma to HIV+ individuals--it is members of the gay community! Part of me does not give a crap what the hell religious leaders think about me. What bothers me more is that I can no longer go out to clubs and bars without fellow gay brothers pointing their fingers at me as if I am some circus attraction. It hurts me a lot more when gay people tell me they just don't want to deal with the emotional baggage of being friends with someone who is HIV+.

Things have got to change in our own community first before we can ever expect the ministers and politicians to change their attitudes. It helps to get rid of the discrimination within our own community first--and make our community stronger-- before we start tackling the ignorance of those without.
11. 2007-12-16 18:42  
Surely one of the biggest obstacles to gay people themselves changing attitudes to HIV and improving education within their community is that the government in Singapore (illegally in my view) prevents gay people from organising themselves and harasses them with plain clothes police (eg the pink picnic and fun run). Historically it's gay groups in other countries that have led the fight against HIV; they have the experience, are generally less hung up about sex, and have the contacts to put on concerts to raise funds and awareness etc.
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14. 2007-12-17 02:24  
I have repeated this b4 several times in past forums, so here's my take again in essence.

Although NGOs can do as much as they can to try and raise as much funds as possible to help the afflicted, the single most effective front line solution is not prevention alone. It's post infection support! Ok, so the HIV rates are going up. Something's NOT working and is really very wrong. So? Work on it; but meanwhile, with all the push for compulsory testing and tracking and what not by the government paranoia, where is the actual support then for those who really needs help??? And we are not talking about counseling! So, for argument's sake, let's hypothetically theorise; what if all the compulsory testing in the world reveals that 30-50% of Singaporeans are infected? Then what? Since they kept saying that it's serious, a possible epidemic, a worrying trend...blah, where's the model then in place to support the outbreak, like the high profile template they have set up for the impending bird flu?? They spend millions on an outbreak like bird flu which may/not happen, but ignore the very ONE that IS, right in front of them. Duh?
The police disallows AFA the intiatives to distribute condoms and safe sex literature to MSM in public events, so how serious are the authorities in taking care of its sick/potentially sick citizens?

One reads about people living with HIV & Aids (PLWHAs) having their entire Medisave accounts wiped clean in a matter of months. Why? Cos there are NO subsidies for meds , treatment nor for testing. Hello? And one reads about these people reduced to making handicrafts to support themselves and/or their spouse/children. Shameless. Shame on you authorities! Fully educated abled again PLWHAs reduced to menial workers. Why? Cos there's no support from the relevant health authorities and society.

In Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, USA, other developed nations, the first line of medications for PLWHAs are free, secondary, subsidized. Basic testing is FREE & anonymous. In these countries PLWHAs are abled to go back to work and make the best of their second chances through free and affordable (advanced treatments) meds.

Until a country demonstrates through REAL action that it takes care of its sick and needy children when in dire need, everything else is just hot air and a farce. So there should not be anymore hypocritical display of shock and worry of its own karma consequences when played out in full force, in view of such shameless absence of essential support.

Everyone is ultimately responsible for protecting oneself and others. That's obvious. It's not about shifting the blame, it's about taking the necessary humane action to care. But when all the authorities (secular, religious & media ) do is judge, pontificate and condemns, it's tantamount to what is happening in global warming; where the guilty are more concerned with how much money they can make despite a dying earth. They dun get it. If the earth dies, there is NO money to be made. If a nation sees its people die, there can be no future.
The real epidemic here is stubborn ignorance and educated arrogance.

Perhaps they are already in Plan B mode-Outsource for foreign talent? Citizenship anyone? Need I say more-dun even get me started>:P
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17. 2007-12-17 12:22  
One thing that HIV/AIDS has done is that it has penetrated into the inner sanctum of conservatism and caused thinking people to start thinking outside the morality square.
Now it is official that the secret work being done to support the MSM Community can no be done without hiding or without undesirable consequences.
Who would have thought it possible in SG in this short time. Maybe fear is the driver??
Now how do I reach Dr Balaji?
Many program possibilities are already developed. All they need is a local committee and a budget for resourcing it. Plus an often overlooked factor, a seat at the table of the HIV/AIDS decision making body in the country concerned otherwise the committe is flying blind.
The next posting is also one of the most relevant comments I have seen for dealing with PLWHA's who, by the way, make the best prevention and care and support activists. Of course they have to stay well and productive to do so and they need to establish the level of confidentiality that works for them and to dump them as walking dead despised minorities is a bit like lighting a fuse on an explosive device

Geoffrey Heaviside (geoflowd)

Convenor - Brimbank Community Initiatives Inc
Secretary - International Centre for Health Equity Inc
Member - Australasian Society for HIV Medicine Inc
P.O. Box 2400 Taylors Lakes 3038
Victoria. Australia.
Ph: +61 418 328 278
Ph/Fax : (61 3) 9449 1856
Ph: India : 9840 097 178

"You can't sing in harmony
If everyone is singing the same note"
18. 2007-12-17 14:30  
Dr Balaji Sadasivan fails to understand one and most important difference between Singapore and Australia...gay sex is not illegal in Australia! Until this country removes legal punishment for basic human sexual behavior Singaporeans will continue to feel ashamed and stimitized into fear. Now many Sinagporeans are very uneducated about HIV and sexuality. Until that changes there will continue to be a rise in the infection rates.
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21. 2007-12-17 17:04  
Anyone here pay attention to the latest Anti-HIV message on radio??? It still focus on casual sex, which in turn, somehow, imprinted in the minds of ignorant majority that HIV sufferers are bad people and that they deserve it. Not sure of the rest's opinion here but I strongly feel that it creates blantant descriminations against the HIV sufferers.

I just do not know why they do not want to focus on the plights of the sufferers, the stigma, the long term cost, and the difficult adjustments they have to go through instead. Many who cannot cope financially or mentally choose suicide as the way out.

Many of my friends are HIV+ , and I can only do this much to help them. Some had decided to end their lives, so as not to bring "shame" to the people around them, It is so sad.

Why do we, in a "gracious" Singapore Society want to ostracise the sufferers ? Maybe the plights of the sufferers will only be pushed to the limelight when the love ones of our "outstanding leaders" are infected.

I used to lift my head up high, proud of our government .... but not since I know the truth.
22. 2007-12-17 17:10  
..........In July this year, Dr Balaji had gone on a study trip to Sydney, accompanied by health officials and representatives from AFA, Fridae and Oogachaga, a gay and lesbian affirmative counselling agency..........

Hmmm .... Trevvy.com has the largest youngest followings ... and HIV suffers are getting younger .... how come they are not included ?
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24. 2007-12-18 02:29  

Great points made and it seems pretty obsolete to expect anything beneficial given the anti-gay climate in Singapore. Wonder why are there so many tight wads there when many things in life is a no brainer. I honestly find Singapore, and the way it operates and manages its citizen very alarming & displacing. I see no motivation to visit a country where basic human respect is not implied but dished out on the whims and fancies of the authorities. It's no different in spirit from dictator Myanmar, except with better uniform, hairdo and PR.

I just visited Thailand and I can see why it is indeed one if not the the top spot in Asia to spend my tourist dollar. I felt very comfortable and welcomed there and I will definitely visit again. The unique Thai culture is amazing. Have no idea what the big appeal in Singapore or Malaysia is other than seeing more concrete buildings and wanna be western lifestyle revisited again..boring!

In some parts of Canada and the US, real efforts are already in place to moniter and arrest worrying signs of resurgence in co-infection with other STIs. I greatly doubt any real success can be logged with the ridiculous laws Singapore has. It needs much more than luck with the rising HIV rates. Like what jammyboi says, karma is working its ugly mojo overtime. Scary.
25. 2007-12-19 19:13  
Go to www.moh.gov.sg.

There is a feedback section on HIV issues. Hope all will help by posting questions to them and see what is their answer.

It seems that the Government's position is HIV sufferers are bad people, they deserve it.

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