People here are increasingly accepting of patients with HIV/Aids, though the stigma remains, as does discrimination.
Speaking on World Aids Day yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said that last year, 42 per cent of people said they were willing to share a meal with someone infected with HIV/Aids, up from 30 per cent in 2012.
"We know that HIV is not spread through casual contact such as having a meal together. Yet, many people continue to harbour such misconceptions and fears about HIV," she said at a Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) event in support of the close to 7,000 people here who have been diagnosed with the deadly infection since 1985.
Last year, 456 people were diagnosed, and another 380 people found out they had HIV in the first 10 months of this year. Almost all - 97 per cent - were men, and more than half were aged 30 to 49 years.
Due to greater awareness of the disease, 39 per cent were diagnosed at the late stage this year, compared with 49 per cent last year. This is significant as getting treated in the early stage results in patients having a better quality of life and being able to take steps to prevent the further spread of HIV.
"With the availability of treatment and the potential for HIV patients to live for many years after their diagnosis, the concern is no longer about death but about living," said Dr Khor. But, no matter how good treatment is, she added, it does not beat not getting infected.
Associate Professor Lee Cheng Chuan, a senior infectious diseases specialist at TTSH, explained that people with HIV/Aids age prematurely. Their bodies tend to be 10 to 20 years older than their chronological age and they are more susceptible to diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis and liver problems.
Once infected, there is no way to get rid of the virus. Treatment helps only to control the ill effects.
While the incidence of HIV here is low at 0.2 per cent of the population - global prevalence is 0.8 per cent - or around 450 new cases a year, Dr Khor said that "every individual matters, and every case of HIV/Aids is one case too many".
In Singapore, transmission of this virus, which damages the immune system, making the infected person more susceptible to a host of diseases, is almost entirely through unprotected sex.
"Persons who engage in casual or commercial sex with multiple sexual partners continue to be a major risk group," said Dr Khor.
Survey results show that seven in 10 heterosexual men who engage in casual sex consistently do not use condoms. Among them, 30 per cent also have sex with a regular partner, putting their partners or wives at risk, she said. Among men who have sex with men, 40 per cent also do not use condoms when having sex with casual partners.
Said Dr Khor: "These statistics show we still have much room for improvement."