Patients seek to educate public on skin disease psoriasis

Psoriasis patient Ray Chua conducts a public perceptions survey at Somerset MRT station.
Psoriasis patient Ray Chua conducts a public perceptions survey at Somerset MRT station.PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Singer-songwriter Ray Chua is often shunned in public as he often sheds flakes of discoloured skin in a trail behind him wherever he goes.

Mr Chua developed the skin disease known as psoriasis, an incurable condition affecting about 1 per cent of Singaporeans, when he was 21.

It is not contagious, but most people he meets do not know that.

"They're afraid of coming near me, fearing I'd pass it to them," said the 40-year-old.

Stories such as Mr Chua's are too commonly shared with dermatologist Colin Theng, president of the Psoriasis Association of Singapore.

"Psoriasis is a chronic disease that's very visible and can be seen as unsightly, so the lack of understanding and awareness leads to patients often getting rejected in public places," said Dr Theng.

"I've had patients tell me that people often refuse to sit next to them; lifeguards have stopped them from jumping into pools, and even hairdressers fear cutting their hair because of the thick flakes of skin falling off the scalp."

The best way to counter such discrimination is through education, he added.

So ahead of World Psoriasis Day, which falls on Oct 29, the association set out to raise awareness through its first public perceptions survey, conducted yesterday by several hundred patients at various bus stops and train stations - common areas where they encounter dirty looks and avoidance.

Questions ranged from "Would you shake the hand of someone with psoriasis" to "Would you support your child dating someone with psoriasis".

Mr Chua said he had prepared himself for the usual bouts of rejection and the wide berths people would give him, but was pleasantly surprised.

"Some people ended up telling me they wouldn't want to shake my hand at all or sit next to me, but I also had others say, 'Sure, why not?'" said Mr Chua.

"It was a good mix of answers and I felt very encouraged. The truth is , once people know it's not contagious, they're more receptive."

hpeishan@sph.com.sg