ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
HIV infections on the rise in Singapore
Published yesterday on its website, they reveal that almost 100 people aged 29 and younger tested positive last year, compared with about 50 in 2005.
In all, 461 people tested positive last year. While more people in general have become infected in recent years, teenagers and young adults represent an increasingly at-risk group.
Seven years ago, the under-30 group made up one in six new cases. Last year, the figure was one in five.
Doctors said more young people could be going for tests due to greater awareness of the disease and efforts by advocacy groups to promote the practice.
Last December, non-government group Action for Aids (AfA) rolled out a mobile-testing van.
HIV can cause Aids as it destroys immune systems. As of last December, 1,493 infected people have died.
But others have noted that more young people are having sex and many do not protect themselves by using condoms.
A survey by Singapore Planned Parenthood Association, whose findings were released last month, found that half the 1,790 respondents had lost their virginity by the time they were 20.
In a smaller 1999 survey, only 3 per cent of those aged 12 to 20 had had sex. While the association acknowledged the latest survey may not be representative, John Vijayan Vasavan, its board member and ex-president, said it suggested that young people now throw caution to the wind.
A spokesman for the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control (DSC) Clinic said young people may have reckless sex due to factors such as increased access to the Internet and social media, where they may contact like-minded people.
Donovan Lo, AfA's executive director, said young gay and bisexual men were likely fuelling the alarming trend.
Last year, more homosexual and bisexual men were diagnosed with HIV than heterosexual men for the first time since 1990.
Lo said younger men are less afraid of the virus because they do not see the "death and misery" it wrought in the 1990s. New medications can keep infected people in relatively good health for years though there is still no cure for Aids.
"Infected people rarely inform their sexual partners of their status. Gay men do not talk about HIV because of the stigma and discrimination," he added.
It is an offence if someone infected with the virus does not inform the sex partner before sexual intercourse. Those convicted can be jailed for up to 10 years and/or fined a maximum of $$50,000 (US$39,100).
One barrier to safe-sex campaigns is the ban on TV advertisements that feature or refer to contraceptives.
While the Education Ministry and Health Promotion Board run HIV awareness programmes for the young, a DSC Clinic spokesman said that parents should also educate teens about responsible sexual behaviour.
"Leave age-appropriate resources for them to pick up on their own and read," she said. "Most importantly, let your children know that you will always be there for them if they need someone to confide in."
Letters that do not contain full contact information cannot be published.
Letters become the property of AseanAffairs and may be republished in any format.
They typically run 150 words or less and may be edited
submit your comment in the box below