Singapore, which once was globally noted for sex-change surgery, no longer offers such procedures in its public hospitals forcing local people to travel abroad for such services.
Sex-reassignment surgery has ceased in public hospitals since last year, forcing transgender people to travel to Thailand and South Korea, reports The Straits Times. Thirty years ago Singapore was a global destination for such procedures, with public hospitals dealing with hundreds of cases every year, it said.
The daily said The National University Hospital “believed to be the last public hospital to do sex- change surgery” said it no longer offers such a service. “It did not give a reason, and the Ministry of Health also did not reply specifically when asked about the issue,” the report said.
It quoted Dr Colin Song, the only known surgeon still performing sex-change surgery in private practice as saying that the "one known concern” surrounding sex-change has been the spread of HIV.
“It was reported previously that the authorities here asked hospitals to phase out sex-change surgery in the late 1980s for fear that hospital staff might be exposed to the virus,” The Straits Times report said.
However, when asked why public hospitals have stopped offering sex-reassignment surgery a health ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying that such operations "are not subsidized."
According to private psychiatrist Tsoi Wing Foo who caters to transgender patients, demand for sex-change operations has not diminished.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the psychiatrist had about 30 cases a year but in the past seven years that has increased to 40, the report said. His services are essential because patients need a psychological assessment before sex-reassignment surgery.
Eight in 10 of his patients referred for surgery choose to go to abroad "mainly because of costs," he said. In nearby Thailand,for example, a full sex change costs around 20,000 Singapore dollars (about US$16,000) while a male-to- female operation at Dr Song’s clinic costs 55,000 Singapore dollars. Such operations used to cost between 8,000 and 15,000 dollars six years ago.
Moreover, those who go overseas for surgery often have to make do without support from family or friends and within a culture and language different from their own. This often affects the quality of post-operative care, Leow Yangfa an official from Oogachaga Counselling and Support that provides support for the LGBT community, was quoted as saying.
The first sex change surgery in Singapore was successfully performed in 1971, paving the way for such surgeries in Singapore and the region.
Trans* people have a substantial and vibrant history in Singapore history and culture. The city-state even boasts of “Bugis Street” known internationally for its nightly parade of flamboyantly-dressed transgender women.