New HIV/Aids cases among gays highest in seven years

232 such cases last year; they represent 28% rise from 2014, says Health Ministry update

Test tubes containing blood samples.
Test tubes containing blood samples.PHOTO: ST FILE

While new HIV/Aids cases last year have remained at similar levels to those of previous years, cases among homosexuals hit the highest in at least seven years.

There were 232 new HIV/Aids cases among homosexuals last year, a 27.5 per cent increase from 2014 and the highest number going back to 2009.

Overall, 455 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections were reported among Singapore citizens and permanent residents last year, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in an update on HIV/Aids in Singapore yesterday.

"The number of new reported HIV cases has remained consistent at about 450 per year since 2008," it said in a release.

An Action For Aids spokesman told The Straits Times the rise in cases among homosexuals was "disheartening", as new cases among the group had fallen to 182 in 2014.

"While highly effective medications against HIV infection have been a godsend for persons infected with HIV, it has also led to reduction of fear and concern about HIV/Aids, and falling levels of safer sex," he said. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups said more can be done to help members of the community seek help.

LGBT group Pink Dot said they might not have been able to access information specific to the group.

Its spokesman Paerin Choa noted, for example, that healthcare campaigns with LGBT-specific information cannot be run on mainstream media under Media Development Authority guidelines.

Mr Leow Yangfa, executive director of LGBT counselling group Oogachaga, said: "Any campaign designed to target a minority group... needs to be carefully designed to cater to the needs and culture of that community. For example, through the innovative use of social media and applications, since the online space often provides the safety for many to interact with each other and receive community messages."

According to MOH, 423 of the 455 new cases, or 93 per cent, were males. Of the male patients, 74 per cent of them were aged 20 to 49.

The new cases bring the total number of HIV-infected Singapore citizens and permanent residents to 7,140 as of end-2015, of whom 1,816 have died, said MOH. Sexual intercourse remains the main mode of transmission, making up 97 per cent of cases.

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and Environment and Water Resources, said on Facebook on Wednesday that the most effective way to prevent HIV infection "is to remain faithful to one's spouse or partner and to avoid casual sex, or sex with sex workers".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2016, with the headline 'New HIV/Aids cases among gays highest in seven years'. Print Edition | Subscribe