Challenge to detect HIV infections early remains key: Amy Khor

SINGAPORE - Even as Singapore's human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection numbers remain low, the challenge to detect and treat infections early remains key, wrote Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor in a blog post on Sunday, which is World Aids Day.

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Read her full blog post here:

"As the end of the year approaches, it is usual for us to pause and reflect on our achievements and identify areas we can do better in in the upcoming year. As it is World Aids Day today, I thought it would be timely to take stock of our fight against HIV/AIDS.

"Firstly, I am happy to note that we continue to maintain a low level of HIV epidemic in Singapore. From the latest statistics on HIV infections, we expect the total number of notified HIV cases in 2013 to be roughly similar to that of 2012 (469 cases). But we cannot afford to be complacent. We must remain vigilant and continue our public education efforts, to continually engage high-risk groups and educate them on how to protect themselves from HIV. Every case is one case too many as the disease is preventable.

"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. Using condoms correctly and consistently can reduce the risk of HIV infection for those who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, such as having multiple sexual partners or engaging in casual or commercial sex. Our public education campaigns will continue to stress these proven preventive behaviours.

"One of our key challenges continues to be the early detection of HIV infections. As at June 2013, two in five (40 per cent) newly reported cases already had late-stage HIV infection when they were diagnosed. While this is lower than the 50 per cent in previous years, it is still a significant proportion which we must strive to reduce. This shows the importance of regular HIV testing in our fight against HIV - especially for persons having multiple sexual partners and engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour.

"With early diagnosis, a HIV positive person can access care and treatment earlier, and live a longer, healthier life. By knowing their status early, they can also take measures to protect their partners from infection.

"I am therefore heartened and encouraged by the headway HPB has made through its collaborations with various partner organisations to conduct educational outreach programmes and campaigns targeting at-risk individuals to urge them to go for regular HIV testing. In 2012, over 500,000 at-risk individuals received targeted health education.

"Beyond increasing knowledge on the transmission and prevention of HIV, HPB also supports proactive prevention behaviours following the principles of 'ABCD': (A) Abstinence, (B) Being faithful, (C) Correct and consistent use of condom and (D) Early detection through regular HIV testing. These principles apply not only for at-risk groups, but for everyone.

"I wish to emphasise that HIV is not a silent crisis. We need to actively manage and destigmatise it in the public space. We must debunk myths and misconceptions about HIV and reduce discrimination against People Living with HIV (PLHIVs) -factors that lead to late testing and detection of HIV infection. MOH and HPB will therefore remain steadfast in working with the People in the community, Private companies and other agencies in the Public sector to drive home these messages.

"One such notable collaboration is the HPB's partnership with the Singapore National Employers Federation. With the aim of raising awareness and knowledge of HIV in the workplace, the programme has reached out to over 200,000 employees since April 2011.

"While MOH and HPB remain committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS, we need the support of the community to effect lasting change. In commemoration of World Aids Day, let us all do our part to enhance awareness and prevention of HIV, and also show compassion and support to those affected by the disease. Be one of the voices that cares in our journey towards an inclusive society."