S'poreans more accepting of HIV/AIDS sufferers now

PHOTO: S'poreans more accepting of HIV/AIDS sufferers now

SINGAPORE - A recent survey by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) found that Singaporeans are more accepting of people with HIV/AIDS now than ever before, with 41 per cent saying that they would share a meal with an infected person.

In a 2007 survey, 22 per cent said they would share a meal with an infected person.

The survey also revealed that Singaporeans are more knowledgeable of HIV/AIDS preventive measures, also known as the ABCs - Abstinence from casual sex, Being faithful to one uninfected sexual partner and using a Condom correctly.

In the latest 2010 survey, about 67 per cent of respondents were aware of the ABCs, compared to 37 per cent in 2007.

More than 400 people are diagnosed with HIV every year in Singapore, and late testing and detection of the HIV infection remains a worrying trend, said Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health and Chairperson of the National HIV Policy Committee.

Voluntary testing as a means of detection accounted for only about one in ten of the 221 new cases reported in the first half of the year, she said.

She stressed the importance of education and outreach programmes in helping to demystify and de-stigmatise the condition, to encourage those at risk to take preventive measures and go for regular HIV tests.

The early detection and management of HIV infections will delay the onset of AIDS and help ensure an active and productive life, she said.

Dr Khor was speaking at a World AIDS Day commemoration event, where she showed her support by putting a streak of red in her hair.

She shared her experience with people getting dismissed because they are discovered to be HIV positive, and warned against HR managers unwittingly implementing employment policies which discriminate against those with HIV.

She said those infected can continue to work and contribute if they are treated and cared for.

To combat stigma and discrimination, Dr Khor said her committee will focus of three areas in the short to medium-term: raising awareness of HIV preventive measures, enhancing support for those with HIV/AIDS, and adopting guidelines to remove workplace stigma and discrimination.

One such outreach effort is "Hairdressers Against AIDS (HAA)", where professional hair stylists from more than 100 local hair salons pledge to initiate meaningful dialogues with their customers about HIV/AIDS, while the customers are relaxing in salons to get their hair done.

The effort is a collaborative effort between HPB and L'Oréal Singapore.

"HPB's HIV/AIDS educational messages are usually broadcast to the general public. Our challenge in educating Singaporeans about HIV/AIDS is to make information personal, so that it can be more impactful," said Mr Ang Hak Seng, Chief Executive Officer, HPB.

"This is why HPB is working with hair stylists, many of whom have developed personal and longstanding relationships with their customers."

He added that HPB aims to increase awareness of the ABCs among Singaporeans to 80 per cent.