Having been pretty timid about their World AIDS Day efforts in the past, I feel very proud that the organisation who as most of you know I volunteer with is striking out to boldly this World AIDS Day with this campaign.
This year the global theme for World AIDS Day is Getting to Zero - Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination, and Zero AIDS Related Deaths and so it makes absolute sense that Singapore's efforts are focusing on Zero Discrimination.
In Singapore, discrimination and stigmatization is still a major obstacle in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Only 66.5% of respondents of a recent survey are willing to care for a close relative ill with HIV/AIDS and 40.7% willing to share a meal with a person who has HIV/AIDS.
Although there’s an improvement in knowledge of HIV prevention, these statistics show the accepting attitude is still low and we need to all work towards helping to correct these erroneous and harmful misperceptions.
The Be Positive campaign is a wonderful step in the right direction in changing the attitudes of Singapore's society, to make it one that is supportive and understanding and free of discrimination - but there is still a long way to go.
My personal view is that those living with HIV/AIDS are human beings and should be treated as such. With respect. And as equals. And not be made to feel ostrichized (cue video from the campaign)....
Their status does not and should not affect who they are - they are still the same person that you or I knew in the first place. Through discrimination, people are actually aiding it's spread and impeding the fight against it's eradication by making people fearful of getting tested, knowing their HIV status and facing and protecting their loved ones. In my eyes, having to cover up is the silent killer and accomplice in spreading infection.
Although the number of people reported to have HIV/AIDS in Singapore might be comparatively small at 5,045 (since 1985), our position as a travel and business hub along with the high number of infections in surrounding countries, makes it possible that we could be in a position to experience a more serious epidemic in the future.
Also it's important to note that this number is only known cases and that it why voluntary HIV testing is so important. Just last month a new and potentially more aggressive strain of HIV was discovered here and so the need to stamp out discrimination, improve education and and increase understanding could not be any more pivotal.
On Tuesday this week, I was handing out balloons conveying the campaign's message out in Raffles Place and have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the largely more open attitude of those I encountered in the area. However, this is something that needs to be carried over to other communities and an essential part of that is education and understanding.
Be Positive campaign - what you can do....
- Like the campaign Facebook page here, record a letter and be a voice for those living with HIV/AIDS, wear a badge for the cause this World AIDS Day and watch the rest of the campaign videos. You can also download a free anonymous test coupon here and know your status.
HIV/AIDS - what you need to know....
- A person with HIV infection can feel totally normal in the early stages of the infection. HIV testing is the only way to know for sure if one is infected.
- HIV is now a manageable chronic disease. Effective medications can suppress HIV effectively and delay the progress of the infection and complication. Early diagnosis will give infected persons a much better chance of staying in good health and to lead productive and fulfilling lives. It also informs them to take preventive measures to protect their love ones.
- Too many people with HIV infection do not get tested in the early stages; they discover they are HIV infected much later when the immune system is seriously damaged and when they develop signs and symptoms of the later stages of HIV infection ie. when they develop AIDS defining infections and cancers.
- Help is available for those who cannot afford medications through several welfare organisations including AfA.
HIV/AIDS - what support is provided for those who are diagnosed?
- AfA runs a Positive Living Centre to provide safe space for people living with HIV (PLHIV) to get together, and relax without being judged.
- AfA also provides newly diagnosed orientation programme to PLHIV to equip them with the knowledge they need to know to cope with their status.
- There are also a support groups that allows PLHIV to come together in a safe and emotionally supportive environment to share their thoughts and experiences of dealing with the infection.
- AfA provides a medical management subsidy for first visit to CDC to help cover the major portion of the cost of laboratory test and consultation charges on newly-diagnosed’s first visit. There is also financial assistance to PLHIV for payment of anti- retroviral medications, treatment to HIV+ mothers for minimizing the chance of mother-to-child-transmission and assistance for families of persons with HIV infections, particularly those who have been severely impacted financially.
- AfA are currently exploring feasibility of providing services like nutrition programme, couple counseling, and job opportunity arrangement.