December 1st is the World AIDS Day 2008. There was a TV series being produced in Singapore, in conjunction to the World AIDS Day 2008 on December 1st. In the TV series, the leading actor was infected with AIDS through a single account of unsafe casual sex. The TV series attempted to raise the awareness of AIDS by informing the viewers to be faithful to a single sex partner and not to indulge in casual sex. Fortunately, the leading actor eventually gained the support of his family and friends.
This leads me to the questions, “How many people infected with AIDS can be forgiven by their family” and “How many of them have gotten support from their family and friends eventually?” I certainly hope the answers are as heartening as the case portrayed in the TV series. However, I understand that, I for once can be part of the heartening answers. As what Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the World.” The good news is, you too can join me in this change.
Over the weekend, there was a special report on AIDS in the newspaper and there is a particularly disturbing headline which read, “HIV infection rates in Singapore have spiked, rising tenfold from 42 in 1991 to 423 in 2007.” While in Thailand, they have fallen from 143,000 to 17,000.
According to the report, “Education, awareness and safe sex helped in Thailand. So did easy access to generic drugs that can keep people with HIV healthy for many years.” In Singapore, without subsidies, the medication can amount to more than $1,000 a month. HIV patients either have to smuggle cheaper generic drugs from Thailand, or do without medication and there are cases where patients just give up and wait to die. Can we just leave people to die?
There was a move by the Singapore government recently, to provide HIV testing to all patients aged 21 and above who are admitted to the six public hospitals here by the end of the years. Patients are allowed to opt out of the test. This strategic move by the government aims to identify more HIV-positive patients in the early stages of the disease. Would this move be effective in getting people to opt for the voluntary testing but without availability of treatment?
Under the current scheme, HIV patients can use up to $550 from their Medisave accounts monthly for their HIV medication. But patients here pay $353 and $511 while their counterparts in Thailand and China pay only $65 and between $200 and $300 for patented drugs respectively. “These prices are well beyond what HIV patients here – mostly from lower socioeconomic backgrounds – can afford,” according to the report.
On one account, a part-time cashier, who believes she was infected by a former boyfriend, had to be hospitalised for HIV-related complications such as pneumonia. She used up almost all of her $7,000 in her Medisave account and said that she wouldn’t be around, if not for her social worker who told her how to get drugs from Thailand.
I tend to agree with one of the doctors who pointed out the irony that on one hand we promote Singapore as a medical hub but on the other hand, we are telling our HIV patients to go elsewhere for treatment.
It is ashamed that Singapore signed the 2006 UNAids declaration to scale up universal access to HIV prevention, treatment care and support by 2010. “I don’t think we have made any headway since. We are the only developed nation which does not provide free or subsidised medication for HIV patients, ” according to Mr. Brenton Wong, former vice-president of non-government organisation Action For Aids. He brought out another point, “Patients won’t come forward to be tested when they know they won’t get treatment. Why risk the discrimination?”
You may not agree with this, but the discrimination HIV patients are experiencing is something we can never hope to understand by putting ourselves in their shoes.
Besides having treatment made available to HIV patients, also important are education and awareness programs to the general public so they can learn more about AIDS. And hopefully with education and awareness, the general public can eventually remove their discrimination against HIV patients.
As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure,” we can play our parts to be faithful to one partner and not have casual sex regardless of safe or unsafe.
How is the AIDS support and treatment in your country? Are they facing the same problem as in Singapore? Do the HIV-positive patients face similar discrimination as in the HIV-positive patients here?
*Updated March 28, 2009: I really should have updated this sooner. Singapore is already making plan to subsidise HIV patients for their medication.
For help and support in Singapore, please go to: Action For AIDS