Vulnerability, Risk, and Prevention This seminar focused on the
diversity of the many populations and sub-populations in Singapore
who might be vulnerable to contracting HIV. Assessing the diversity
of these groups is critical when designing preventive efforts
to limit the spread of HIV in and among these groups. Because
each group is unique, preventive programs must be tailor-made
to effectively reach each population.
Vivian Heng from the Ministry of Health kicked off the seminar
with a discussion of the evolution of the HIV mass media campaign
since its inception in 1988. In her talk, she highlighted the
difficulties in working with Singapore’s diverse multiracial population.
Language barriers and different cultural beliefs provide many
challenges and obstacles make approaching the Singapore mass population
about HIV/AIDS a sensitive process. Chia Hwee Pin outlined the
opportunity provided by the Singapore Armed Forces to educate
and screen the vast majority of all young men in Singapore for
HIV. He focused on the many efforts being undertaken to reduce
the risk of servicemen contracting HIV during overseas training.
Douglas Ong from the Singapore General Hospital, on the other
hand, spoke among other things of the specific challenges facing
the prevention of HIV among women. He pointed out that the data
in Asia reflects women’s lower status and autonomy, and the unequal
balance of power between men and women. Therefore, prevention
efforts targeted at this group must extend beyond individual behaviour
change to address larger societal issues affecting the overall
status of women in Asia. Martin Lee from the Ministry of Health,
Jenny Bong from the Lakeside Family Centre, and Anne Rabley from
the ISS International School all spoke of specific issues and
challenges that arise in educating Singapore’s youth on HIV/AIDS
prevention. Each of these three speakers pointed to the need to
carefully consider the particular audience being addressed. Age,
maturity, and whether the youth are in the regular school system,
a private school, or are out of school are just some factors that
should considered in the development of curricula dealing with
HIV/AIDS. Roy Chan from Action for AIDS outlined many successful
programmes designed to target sex trade workers in Singapore.
Some focused on raising the awareness of HIV/AIDS while others
attempted to improve the sex workers’ life skills such as negotiating
condom use. Finally, Paul Toh from UNAIDS spoke of a lack of programmes
targeted specifically at bisexuals and men who have sex with men
in Singapore. He called for an increase in not only prevention
efforts for this group, but also specific efforts to decrease
the stigmitisation and discrimination that are still present toward
these populations. Each of the speakers in Seminar 1 focused on
a particular group, ranging from the mass population to Singapore’s
youth to men who have sex with men. Each then outlined the vulnerabilities
and risks facing these groups - illustrating the diversity of
Singapore’s population which must be considered in designing different
HIV/AIDS prevention programmes..
Seminar 3 -
Societal and Community Response Overall, the title for Seminar
3 was an extremely apt description for the discussion it involved.
The seminar did indeed cover the general community and various
responses from individual groups in Singapore.
Jimmy Sng from Singapore General Hospital began the seminar by
detailing Singapore’s official governmental response to the epidemic,
The National AIDS Control Programme. This multifaceted programme
includes many approaches such as education of the general public
and protection of the national blood supply, to give just two
examples. It also covers any amendments to the Infectious Disease
Act, the details of which were described by Lin Shiu Yi, the coordinator
of legal counseling for the Communicable Disease Centre and Action
for AIDS. This legislation serves not only to protect the public
from the spread of HIV, but also to shield the person living with
HIV/AIDS (PWA) from discrimination from lack of privacy with respect
to their disease status. Many important ethical and social questions
are undoubtedly raised in the development of this type of legislation.
Some of these were introduced by Stella Quah and David Chan, both
of whom are from the National University of Singapore. What affects
societal attitudes toward PWAs? How do culture and religion help
to shape moral and sexual norms? Should HIV testing be mandatory
or voluntary? Should an HIV-positive health care worker continue
to treat patients? These are tough questions that generate fascinating
debate and dialogue. Ricky Tan from Care Corner, a Christian organisation
doing HIV/AIDS charity work in Thailand, tried to answer some
of these questions by outlining specific ways that culture and
religion can play positive roles in halting the spread of HIV.
Finally, Le Truong from Levi Strauss and Co. and Alan John from
the Straits Times highlighted both the ability and the need for
media and big business to take on leadership roles in the fight
The critical take-home message from Seminar 3 is that everybody
- whether from government, religious organisations, the legal,
academic, media or business communities - has a role to play in
raising awareness of the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in Singapore.
Most important, when these sectors work together, we can finally
begin to deconstruct the barriers of stigmatisation and discrimination
toward PWAs that are still prevalent in Singapore today.