Seminar 1 -
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 against HIV/AIDS.

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