Community effort to eradicate HIV in Singapore

(From left) Professor Roy Chan, president of Action for Aids, and Action for Aids' advocacy and partnerships manager Avin Tan.
(From left) Professor Roy Chan, president of Action for Aids, and Action for Aids' advocacy and partnerships manager Avin Tan. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

30 organisations and groups launch blueprint with aim of ending transmission here by 2030

A community blueprint with the ambitious goal of ending HIV transmission and Aids in Singapore by 2030 was launched yesterday.

The 30 organisations and groups which developed the blueprint hope that it will kick-start the development of a national strategy to eradicate the human immunodeficiency virus in Singapore.

The blueprint, citing research studies, noted that there were more than half a million people at risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV in Singapore, with the majority of them being heterosexual males as well as men who have sex with men.

Singapore with its small and highly literate population, world-class healthcare system and relatively well-funded HIV programme is in a good position to join the ranks of cities that can end the HIV epidemic by 2030, said Professor Roy Chan, president of Action for Aids, at the launch of the blueprint at Sofitel Singapore City Centre.

He said reaching such a target is possible, given various factors such as having effective anti-HIV medications that not only improve the prognosis of persons with the virus, but also stop its transmission. New biomedical prevention technologies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have been shown to be able to stop HIV transmission. More accessible HIV testing will also lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment.

"The community blueprint to end HIV in Singapore is audacious and ambitious, but we believe that the goal is realistic and achievable," said Prof Chan in his speech.

"But getting there will need work, collaboration and coordination. This document will serve as a starting point for discussions, planning and implementation of a national plan to end HIV in Singapore by 2030," added Prof Chan, who is also an adjunct professor at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

Other countries with such plans include Australia, where the Australian Federation of Aids Organisations announced a blueprint in 2017 that seeks to end HIV by next year.

Today, more than 70 cities around the world have also signed the Paris Declaration on Fast-Track Cities which has the target of eliminating all new HIV infections and deaths related to acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

 

  • 8,295

    Singapore residents infected with HIV as at the end of last year.

  • 2,034 

    Those infected who had died.

As at the end of last year, 8,295 Singapore residents were infected with HIV, of whom 2,034 had died. There were about 400 to 500 new cases detected each year from 2007 to 2017.

There is no known cure for the disease. But effective antiretroviral drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission.

Action for Aids is one of the 30 community organisations and groups involved in HIV and Aids work that developed the blueprint over the last two years. The others include Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and the DSC Clinic.

 
 

The blueprint outlines what needs to be done in areas such as prevention testing, treatment and stigma reduction. It identifies gaps in services and proposes additional efforts and investment across community organisations, in research and the clinical workforce.

The five key areas identified in the plan are: scaling up reach and effectiveness of HIV prevention testing and treatment efforts for populations at risk of HIV; reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination; building the capacity of the HIV community-based medical workforce and other resources; scaling up the adoption of PrEP for people who are at high risk; and evaluating HIV prevention programmes.

The first few cases of HIV infection in Singapore were reported in 1985. Since then, there have been tremendous biomedical advances in HIV prevention and treatment.

However, it was reported earlier this month that a new strain of the virus has been discovered by researchers in the United States, the first in almost two decades.

Dr Carole McArthur, one of the study's authors, said: "This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to out-think this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution."

 
 

Executive director of Action for Aids Sumita Banerjee said a draft of the blueprint has been shared with the Health Ministry.

One of those who welcomed the blueprint is Action for Aids' advocacy and partnerships manager Avin Tan, 34, who has been living with HIV for 10 years.

"As a person living with HIV, having such a document means a lot to me. It outlines what the larger community will be doing or is doing to address the many layers of stigma persons living with HIV continue to experience in our day-to-day life," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 24, 2019, with the headline 'Community effort to eradicate HIV here'. Print Edition | Subscribe