In the recently released HIV statistics by Singapore’s Ministry of Health, male-to-male and bisexual transmission accounted for 54% of newly reported cases for 2013. There are various reasons for this, a key one being the higher rate of voluntary HIV testing among gay and bisexual men as compared to heterosexual men, as evidenced by other official statistics released.
Yet, even amongst gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in Singapore, testing rates appear to be worryingly low. According to the Asia Internet MSM Sex Survey [AIMSS] conducted by Fridae in 2010, just under 30% of Singapore-based MSM respondents have never had an HIV test; and only slightly more than 30% had an HIV test in the past 6 months.
In a bid to promote greater access to gay-friendly HIV testing services in Singapore, Oogachaga Counselling and Support will be collaborating with Dr Tan & Partners to offer an anonymous HIV testing and onsite professional counselling service.
Oogachaga is a professional counselling and personal development agency that reaches out to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) communities, while Dr Tan & Partners is a private medical practice that is approved by the Ministry of Health to conduct anonymous HIV testing services.
On this partnership between a non-profit counselling service and a private medical practitioner, Dr Tan Kok Kuan from Dr Tan & Partners has this to say:
"Our unique collaboration with Oogachaga represents our commitment to bring down barriers to HIV testing and increase outreach into the LGBTQ community. Early diagnosis and education are pillars in our fight against the HIV epidemic. Often, patients fear the testing process and doctors only have time to address facts and statistics in lieu of the patient's psycho-social needs. This collaborative service with OC will bring in that much needed psycho-social support for patients leading to a much more pleasant overall testing experience."
“This is an exciting new step for Oogachaga, especially since our professional experience has traditionally been in the area of providing emotional support and educational outreach in the community. We decided to launch this service together with Dr Tan & Partners as a way of connecting with and meeting the changing needs of the communities we serve. Hopefully, it will also be a successful example of how an LGBTQ-affirmative agency can collaborate with an LGBTQ-friendly straight ally,” adds Bryan Choong, Executive Director of Oogachaga.
The service is known as the “3+1 step test” because when one enters the clinic, all they have to do is register, take the HIV test and wait for the results. The enhanced service adds in the element of counselling and psycho-social support.
Patients who visit the clinic and use the HIV testing service can be assured of anonymity and confidentiality. Patients’ names will not be recorded. For example, if there are issues they are more comfortable discussing with the counsellor instead of the doctor, or vice versa, the relevant professional will respect confidentiality and not disclose to the other.