Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) said that there were 313 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections reported among Singapore residents in 2018.

This brings the total number of HIV-infected Singapore residents to 8,295 as of end 2018, of whom 2,034 had passed away. The number of new HIV cases among Singapore residents has been between 400 to 500 per year from 2007 to 2017.

MOH said that of the 313 cases, 93% were male and 62% were between 20 to 49 years old. About 50% had late-stage HIV infection when they were diagnosed. Sexual intercourse remains the main mode of HIV transmission. 95% (298 out of 313) of the cases acquired the infection through sexual intercourse.

Heterosexual transmission accounted for 43% of all cases, while 42% were from homosexual transmission and 10% from bisexual transmission.

MOH’s data showed that 57% of the newly reported cases were detected in the course of medical care provision. The Ministry said that such cases are typically at the late stage of HIV infection.

Another 22% were detected during routine programmatic HIV screening and 14% were detected from self-initiated HIV screening (voluntary screening). MOH added that cases detected via voluntary screening are more likely to be at the early stage of infection.

The data showed that when differentiated by sexual transmission, a higher proportion of homosexuals and bisexuals (20%) had their HIV infection detected via voluntary screening compared to heterosexuals (9%).

Action for Aids Singapore (AfA), a non-governmental organisation dedicated to fighting AIDS/HIV infection in the city-State, noted that the infections are at its lowest since 2005. Prof Paul Tambyah, AfA’s Board member said in a Facebook comment that he hoped that the data released on HIV infections “is real and not an artifact of fear of testing because of the data leak.”

“Fingers crossed that the sentinel surveillance data will show a similar drop.”

Prof Paul Tambyah

MOH announced in late January that confidential information regarding 14,200 individuals diagnosed with HIV up to January 2013, and 2,400 of their contacts, is in the possession of an unauthorised person, and that the information has been illegally disclosed online. The Ministry added that it has worked with the relevant parties to disable access to the information.

MOH advised that the most effective way to prevent HIV infection is to remain faithful to one’s spouse/ partner and to avoid casual sex, or sex with sex workers.

Persons engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour, such as having multiple sexual partners or engaging in casual or commercial sex, are strongly advised by the Ministry to use condoms to reduce their risk of HIV infection. Condoms should be used consistently and correctly during every sexual encounter.

MOH and the Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB) urged individuals who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour to go for early and regular HIV testing. With early diagnosis, an infected person can be treated earlier, and receive counselling on how to protect their partners from infection.

Early treatment and care can delay the onset of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and also helps reduce HIV spread in the community. HIV testing is available at polyclinics, private clinics, and hospitals. There are also anonymous HIV test sites, where personal particulars are not required when signing up for a HIV test.

HPB has been working with partner organisations to conduct programmes and campaigns targeted at high-risk individuals to urge them to go for regular HIV testing. HPB’s partners conduct various educational outreach programmes on HIV prevention and management using a lifestyle approach. These programmes reach out to at-risk individuals through social settings to encourage them to take protective measures and to go for early and regular HIV testing.

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