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Time to review policies regarding HIV and Aids

This is Leong Sze Hian's letter to TODAY published on July 23, 2007.

I refer to the article, “One in 350 patients is HIV positive – and they don’t even know it” (July 18). This statistic was from the findings of anonymous tests done on excess blood samples of 3,000 hospital patients this year.

UNAids estimates that 0.3 percent of Singapore’s adult population is infected with the Aids virus, which is about 9,000 people.

As this is much higher than the Ministry Of Health’s own statistics of 2,852 people infected here, I suggest we conduct a comprehensive study and a review of the possible reasons why this has happened.

I believe a primary contributing factor is the reluctance of Singaporeans to go for testing. Why? Because should a person test positive, he or she would have to bear heavy costs to get treatment.

In some Western countries, HIV-positive patients get free treatment, so the fear of financial ruin is minimized.

Here, Medishield excludes Aids.

Without subsidies for treatment, patients should be allowed more liberal access to their own Medisave, as it may make no sense to restrict Medisave withdrawals to a fraction of the costs of treating Aids, since it is a terminal disease.

In countries like Malaysia, its citizens with HIV get free life-prolonging drugs as long as the medicine can be produced locally.

Other reasons why Singaporeans may be unwilling to go for testing include the mandatory reporting of those found to be HIV-positive, notifying spouses and undergoing HIV testing for mothers-to-be.

Unless current policies relating to HIV and Aids are reviewed, the statistics may worsen, as long as people are, in a sense, driven to a state of mind that “it’s better not to know”.

Knowing the truth may be akin to an immediate prolonged life sentence of financial, emotional and physical suffering for the victims and their loved ones.

Read also channelnewsasia's report: Bill proposed to help medical data collection for research

Read more of Sze Hian's writings here.