Thursday, March 10, 2005

there are times when i hate being Singaporean

March 10, 2005
Gay parties may have led to sharp rise in new Aids cases

By Leslie Koh
THERE was a sharp rise in new Aids cases last year and it could be linked to a popular annual 'gay party' on Sentosa, Dr Balaji Sadasivan said yesterday, quoting an unnamed expert.

Calling it an 'epidemic', the Senior Minister of State for Health told Parliament that the number of new cases of Aids infection rose 28 per cent last year, from 242 to 311.

Nine out of 10 of the new Aids sufferers are men and a third of them are gay. There are more than 2,000 Aids patients in Singapore now.

Dr Balaji said an epidemiologist - an expert in the spread and control of diseases - had suggested to him that the spike might be linked to the Nation parties held every August on Sentosa.

The Nation parties, which attract a predominantly homosexual crowd, could have allowed 'gays from high-prevalence societies to fraternise with local gay men, seeding the infection in the local community', he said.

He added: 'However, this is a hypothesis and more research needs to be done.'

Started in 2001, the annual Nation parties - held on National Day - have drawn as many as 8,000 people from the region.

Dr Balaji's statement drew immediate fire from the party organiser, Its chief executive officer Stuart Koe called it 'irresponsible'.

Instead of making 'sweeping statements' that misinform the public, the Government should focus on education, he said. 'The Government has never targeted any of its Aids campaigns at gay men. Is it any wonder that there is a rise in the number of Aids cases in the gay community?'

Last year, police turned down an application to hold a similar Christmas party, deeming it contrary to public interest.

Yesterday, Dr Balaji said the Health Ministry was most concerned about the rising number of Aids patients. For every such case diagnosed, there may two to four undiagnosed sufferers - making for a possible total of 8,000 Aids patients here.

The ministry is looking into over-the-counter test kits that allow people to test themselves with their saliva.

Similar self-tests are used elsewhere, such as in America and Europe, but have also drawn criticism worldwide.

Action For Aids' executive director Benedict Jacob-Thambiah said: 'What if someone tests positive? How are you going to change his behaviour without counselling?'

He also believed such test kits might encourage risky behaviour as people become lax again if they find the results negative.

But Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) disagreed. Sufferers still needed to go to clinics to confirm the results, where counselling could done, she said.

Apart from self-test kits, the Health Ministry is also considering laws in the battle against Aids, such as ensuring spouses are told if their partners have the disease.

There is a need, Dr Balaji said, to 'de-stigmatise testing' and at the same time prevent discrimination against Aids patients.
yeah, quoted in full here, without a link to the Straits Times because they're making people pay to access their online content, and frankly, they aren't worth the money. (i'd rather give it to the Times so i can do their daily crosswords.)

before i even BEGIN the rest of my rant, let me point out to you that our Senior Minister of State for Health stands up in Parliament and quotes a fucking UNNAMED EXPERT source when talking about something that clearly Singaporeans have very little information about -the gay community and more specifically the health issues that may or may not pertain to the gay community in Singapore. it pushes every single button i have as an academic and a scholar that he cannot name his source publicly. why? is the source perhaps afraid that he will be stoned to death the moment he leaves his front door? does he not care to be associated with his research? or perhaps -wait for it, this is a shocker- his research isn't at the stage where he's ready to stand behind his conclusions, as he says in the very next sentence, and therefore SHOULDN'T FUCKING BE TALKED ABOUT RIGHT NOW IN PARLIAMENT, for crying out loud!

i have to say, this whole AIDS and the gay community in Singapore thing is a hot button issue for me. it just enrages me to see how poorly the ST reports anything that isn't mainstream news (well it pisses me off to see how poorly the ST reports ANYTHING, for that matter) but in this case it is even more than that. it's how terribly our politicians present themselves in public - i cannot believe a Senior Minister of State would stand up in Parliament and quote an unnamed source -how terribly, oh, i don't know, Soviet Union in the Cold War -spy-movie-esque - on something that EVERYONE knows is a hot button issue that Singaporeans both at home and all over the world have concerns with. debate. argue about. it's an issue that tears families apart. and it's an issue that many Singaporeans have no information about (despite having really fucking strong opinions. it's like banging your head against a brick wall.), and things like this article don't help matters. they spread misinformation, or the lack of information that then becomes speculative misinformation, and before you know it we will be the fucking Bible Belt of Southeast Asia. (ok, i'm exaggerating, but i'm angry.)

and hey, i have a POI question for the ST: do they mean new AIDS infections (AIDS all in caps because it's a fucking acronym, you morons, not a word) or do they mean an increase in HIV infections, and do they know the difference? do they care?

and the remark about not having an AIDS campaign targetting specifically at gay men: well, what are gay men, more stupid than the next guy? they can't understand that they are at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases if they are sexually active, regardless of the gender of their partner? it's not like the mode of protection they use is different, boys and girls. helllllloooo SingHealth.

how do i think we should deal with this AIDS epidemic, you ask? (well yes, of course i am willing to call it an epidemic. why shouldn't i? medical health professionals across the globe are willing to call it that, much less my very own bumbling fool of a Senior Minister of State for Health, who happens to be a doctor.) for one thing, i don't remember if it's part of health education or whatever the hell they are calling it in schools these days, but we need to get our heads out of our asses and realise that our children are no longer lily-pure innocents, and we damn well better be giving them the information they need earlier than we think they need it. so sex ed in school should include how to have safe sex, not just avoid the question of sex all together. you would think that our pragmatic little nation-state would be less prudish, wouldn't you. the more people -kids- know about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, the better their position to prevent contracting it.

have a campaign to educate adults, if you like. we like campaigns in Singapore. after all, we don't see to be winning the war on heroin and cocaine and ecstacy and all the other fun drugs we see anti-drug posters for on the MRT. take them down and stick up some graphic pictures on what AIDS patients look like, and how to avoid contracting it. maybe that'll do something. here's something to think about: a campaign to remind people that everyone is responsible for his or her own sexual health. if your partner doesn't want to wear a condom, don't have sex with him. if your partner doesn't want you to wear a condom, don't have sex with him/her. don't put yourself in a position where you can't say no. (ie, don't get drunk out of your mind and forget/be unable to make the decision. because you can't undo it afterwards.) i think life -or at least sex and STDs- would be a lot simpler if we could just learn, as the human race, not to abuse alcohol. bloody drug.

and make it the law that if you have an STD, or at the very least, if you have HIV, you must inform your spouse and/or all other sexual partners. i don't know how it would be enforced. knowing the government it would probably involve people signing things. i guess if i were to venture a method i would advocate a policeman and/or a lawyer following said person ard making threatening remarks about jail and/or righteous shootings. (Pratchett's Going Postal comes to mind.) all right, this is going to cause all kinds of problems with people being willing to TAKE an HIV test in the first place. if i had it my way, and this being Singapore, hey, who knows, i might not be far off track here, it would be mandatory for everyone over the age of, oh, twenty-one, let's make it, to have regular blood work done. once a year is probably enough for most people. though for some people, once every six months is probably more prudent. (this is where i face my major conflict between my liberal side, which says the government shouldn't be allowed to regulate individual behaviour; and my megalomaniac-i-know-best side, which screams that my government shd use all its paternalistic power and instincts to stop people from being incredibly, wantonly stupid.) of course, if i really had my way, people would be a lot more sensible and responsible about their sexual (and other social) behaviour, and we wouldn't NEED to have mandatory testing and reporting, but we all know that's not going to happen, right?

all right, i'm no longer as angry as i was when i first read this article. i'm back to my default state of deep deep disappointment. i was right, when i posted a couple of days ago that --

you know,

people never do fail to disappoint.


At 3:06 AM, March 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 5:35 PM, March 16, 2005, Blogger Packrat said...

I think the rephrasing is "Singaporeans never fail to disappoint me"...

Sad that 2/3 of the 9/10 are heterosexual men and that's not the worrying statistic...

O well...hang in there...we're all in this together.

On a plus side, I've been telling my college kids that the Straits Times is crap. We may be able to stem the tide after all...

At 5:35 PM, March 16, 2005, Blogger Packrat said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:37 PM, March 16, 2005, Blogger Packrat said...

I think the rephrasing is "Singaporeans never fail to disappoint me"...

Sad that 2/3 of the 9/10 are heterosexual men and that's not the worrying statistic...

O well...hang in there...we're all in this together.

On a plus side, I've been telling my college kids that the Straits Times is crap. We may be able to stem the tide after all...


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