361 new cases of HIV infections reported from Jan to Oct: MOH

MOH urged at-risk groups to go for regular HIV testing.
MOH urged at-risk groups to go for regular HIV testing.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A total of 361 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections were reported among Singapore residents in the first 10 months of this year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday (Dec 1).

Along with the Health Promotion Board (HPB), MOH urged at-risk groups to go for regular HIV testing.

MOH analysed 194 cases that were reported in the first half of 2017.

Of these, it found that 96 per cent of the cases were male. Nearly half of the cases - 46 per cent - were aged between 20 and 39.

About 42 per cent of the cases had late-stage HIV infection when they were diagnosed.

This is a slight increase from 38 per cent for the same period last year.

MOH said in its statement that sexual intercourse remains the main mode of HIV transmission. It accounted for 97 per cent of the 194 cases analysed.

Heterosexual transmission was the mode of transmission for 34 per cent of these cases while 53 per cent were from homosexual transmission and 10 per cent from bisexual transmission.

About 43 per cent of the newly reported cases were detected by HIV tests done in the course of medical care.

Another 28 per cent was detected during routine programmatic HIV screening, which includes screening programmes for those with sexually transmitted infections, hospital inpatients and those identified through contact tracing.

Voluntary HIV screening detected another 25 per cent. The remaining cases were detected through other types of screening such as general health screening or medical checks for employment.

A higher proportion of homosexuals and bisexuals - 32 per cent - had their HIV infection detected via voluntary screening compared with heterosexuals, who made up 14 per cent.

MOH said the most effective way to prevent HIV infection "is to remain faithful to one's spouse or partner and to avoid casual sex, and sex with sex workers".

It strongly advised people who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, such as having multiple sexual partners or engaging in casual or commercial sex, to use condoms to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

"Condoms should be used consistently and correctly during every sexual encounter," stressed MOH.

The ministry and HPB urged those at risk to go for regular HIV testing, stressing that it can help diagnose an infected person at an early stage of infection.

It not only allows the infected person to have early treatment and care, but also lets them learn about protecting their partners from infection.

"With early and effective treatment, persons living with HIV can delay the onset of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and continue to lead an active and productive life," said MOH.

HPB has been conducting programmes and campaigns with partner organisations to encourage at-risk individuals to go for early and regular HIV testing.

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and the Environment and Water Resources, said people living with HIV continue to face stigma and discrimination in various aspects of their lives.

"Many are diagnosed when they are in their prime working age, and most feel that they are likely to be discriminated against or lose their jobs if their employers were to find out about their HIV diagnosis," she said. "Ensuring equal access to employment and job opportunities is a significant part of putting a stop to the HIV epidemic."

Dr Khor said she was pleased that the Singapore National Employers Federation, together with HPB and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, will be launching an implementation guide on workplace HIV practices.

"I urge all employers to work with us on this," she said. "A supportive environment is crucial to help us successfully address any stigmatisation and discrimination at the workplace."