Speech by Senior Minister of State for Health & Manpower, Dr Amy Khor, at the launch of the “Gift of Giving” Fund-raising Event, at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, 3 Dec 2013

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

1.            I am pleased to join you this morning at today’s fund-raising event.

Support for PLHIV and their families

2.            As Chairperson of the National HIV Policy Committee (or NHPC), I have been privileged to work with representatives from civil society organisations, clinicians, health agencies and several ministries on the Committee to regularly review the state of the HIV epidemic in Singapore. I have also met with HIV patients and their caregivers to better understand the challenges and concerns faced by people living with HIV (PLHIV), so we can better serve this community. Such multi-sectoral engagement is crucial as it helps shape better informed, relevant and effective HIV policies and programmes which take into account stakeholder concerns in mitigating the impact of HIV in Singapore.

3.            The availability and accessibility of HIV testing services and effective HIV treatment have enabled people living with HIV to remain well, live longer, and be economically active. Nurturing a supportive environment for people with HIV and their families also plays a big part in influencing their quality of life. The opportunity to work, and to contribute to society in a meaningful way brings dignity to our lives. This underscores the initiative taken by Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Patient Care Centre in helping people living with HIV to find job opportunities so that they can support themselves and their families. Several support groups are also available for persons living with HIV to share their challenges and learn from each other’s experiences.

4.            Such care and support programmes have helped many people living with HIV tide through many challenging moments. Access to treatment has also given them a new lease of life and enabled them to engage in meaningful activities such as today’s fund-raising event.

5.            Initiated by the HIV patients in conjunction with World AIDS Day and in recognition of the generous support they have received from the community, they have come together to share the joy of giving with a group of people who are also in need of help, understanding and support – people living with mental illness. This “gift of giving” – as they have aptly named the event – is not just from the heart but also from their very hands as they have applied their talents and channeled energies into making the handicrafts they are selling. This initiative amply shows how simple acts of compassion and support from any of us have the potential to spark a virtuous cycle in realising our vision of a truly inclusive society.

Prevention Education & Early Detection

6.            Promoting support for people living with HIV and their families is just one of the NHPC’s priority areas.  Public education programmes aimed at raising awareness on HIV/AIDS and its prevention remain key in our fight against HIV in Singapore. These ongoing public education efforts include the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) HIV/AIDS education programmes which cater to different segments of the population, especially the high-risk groups. These programmes raise awareness on the modes of transmission as well as how to take the necessary precautions to protect oneself against HIV infection.

7.            I would like to emphasise that the most effective way to prevent HIV infection is to remain faithful to one’s spouse/partner and to avoid casual sex, and sex with sex workers. Those who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour should use condoms consistently and correctly during every sexual encounter to reduce their risk of HIV infection.  To facilitate recall of the main principles of protection against HIV infection for everyone, we use the ‘ABCD’ approach - which refers to ‘A’ for Abstinence, ‘B’ for Being faithful, ‘C’ for the correct and consistent use of Condoms, and ‘D’ for early detection.

8.            A key challenge continues to be the early detection of HIV infections. In the first half of 2013, two in five newly reported cases already had late-stage HIV infection1 when they were diagnosed. One of the HPB’s main messages for high risk groups is therefore the benefits of early and regular HIV testing.  

9.            Working together with partners, HPB adopts a lifestyle approach by reaching to at-risk individuals through social settings. HPB’s targeted education programmes on HIV prevention and management aims to encourage those at-risk to take personal proactive measures and go for regular HIV testing. With early detection and treatment, people living with HIV can access care earlier, continue working and enjoy a relatively normal life.   

10.         I would like to highlight that a variety of HIV testing services can be readily accessed by members of the public. These include the opt-out HIV testing available to the general population in all our public hospitals, as well as clinics which offer rapid HIV tests that take only 20 minutes or less.

11.         However, while such confidential name-based HIV testing is available, there may be individuals who would like to be tested but may prefer not to be identified to healthcare personnel. So anonymous HIV testing provides an alternative to conventional HIV testing. 

12.         I am encouraged by how the annual number of anonymous HIV tests carried out has increased from about 5,500 in 2005 to over 11,000 in 2012, following the expansion of the number of anonymous HIV test sites from three to seven, and the introduction of a mobile testing service. To further encourage early testing, MOH will expand anonymous HIV testing to another three sites in 2014. This will bring the total number of anonymous HIV test sites to ten.

13.         MOH will be inviting clinics that have undergone training on rapid HIV testing to register their interest to be an anonymous HIV test site. The three additional sites will be chosen based on factors such as experience with rapid HIV testing, location and opening hours. In the meantime, members of the public can visit the HPB website to locate the most convenient anonymous test sites currently if you prefer to undergo HIV screening in private. Once again, I urge those at risk of HIV infection to regularly go for HIV testing.

Conclusion

14.         While the Ministry of Health and the NHPC remain committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS, we will also need the support of the community to effect change. The annual World AIDS Day reminds us that it is a collective responsibility, with every one of us taking ownership for the AIDS response in our country, to make it relevant, inclusive, robust and effective.

15.         Today’s fund-raising initiative by the people living with HIV shows this ownership and also serves to remind us that no matter which group or community one belongs to, there are always avenues to leverage on one’s diverse strengths, as well as talents, to contribute to society. It is therefore my hope that all present today will come away from this event feeling similarly inspired and re-energized to do your part in spreading the knowledge about HIV and its prevention, and to extend our support and acceptance to family, friends and any member of our community who are HIV positive. Embracing such an enlightened and inclusive mindset would further spur our loved ones to get early testing and treatment so that they can continue to live productive lives. Thank you.


1 CD4+ cell count of less than 200 per cu mm or AIDS-defining opportunistic infections or both.

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