Principals and Teachers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning to one
and all. It is my pleasure to be here for Standard Chartered
Bank's Living with HIV - Be Aware Be Safe Presentation.
The first case of HIV
in Singapore was diagnosed in 1985, more than 20 years ago. Since
then, the figures have continued to climb and as at end-December
2005, the cumulative number of people reported with HIV in
Singapore had reached 2,641.
AIDS and HIV infection
continue to be a serious issue locally, regionally and
internationally. UNAIDS estimates that about 40 million people
around the world are infected with HIV. In the African continent
alone, there are 25 million people who are HIV-positive while in
Asia, the number is more than 8 million.
Young people globally
and in Singapore continue to be vulnerable to HIV and other
sexually transmitted infections. By the end of last year, more
than 40 young Singaporeans aged 19 and below have been reported as
HIV-positive. Between 1985 and 2005, more than 470 persons were in
the 20 - 29 age group when they were diagnosed with HIV. It is
very likely that some of these 20 - 29 year-olds were infected in
their teenage years as persons may not know that they have HIV
infection for many years as there are no symptoms initially.
What is even more
alarming is the number of sexually transmitted infections such as
gonorrhea, genital herpes and warts being seen in our young. The
number has increased almost 3-fold from over 250 cases in 2002 to
more than 650 cases in 2004, in young people aged 10 to 19
(figures from DSC Clinic).
This increase is
worrying because those affected are young Singaporeans, many of
whom are still in school. It is a tragedy when a young person,
full of life and potential, becomes limited by a positive
diagnosis of HIV. The situation worsens if the infected person
unknowingly spreads HIV to other young people by engaging in
casual sex or sex with multiple partners.
While it is natural
for young people to be curious about sex, they also need to be
aware of the consequences of engaging in pre-marital sex, namely
unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, or even
worse, HIV which eventually leads to death.
HIV/AIDS is not a
problem that will go away by itself and we cannot choose to bury
our heads and pretend that the problem does not exist or will not
affect us. The spread of HIV/AIDS is not a battle which the
Ministry of Health can fight alone. It needs the support and
cooperation of the community - parents, schools, religious
leaders, NGOs, workplaces and the media. It is heartening to note
that more and more of you have responded to the call to fight
Education remains an
essential component in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Teenagers spend
a considerable amount of time in schools and mingle with
schoolmates with whom they share information on sexual matters.
The information shared is not always accurate. The need for
teenagers to know the facts has never been more important.
Changing social values and conflicting signals from different
sectors of society have blurred the line between what is socially
acceptable and what is not. The internet and other forms of media
provide a myriad of information and messages, some of which can be
misleading. In the face of these challenges, it is important to
ensure that our students are given comprehensive, accurate
information about HIV/AIDS and how to protect themselves. We need
to empower our youths so that they can make informed choices.
While we all feel that
parents should play an active role in this regard, it must also be
recognised that the school is an ideal setting where such
knowledge can be imparted. I understand from the Health Promotion
Board (HPB) that about 70% of secondary schools took up its STI/HIV
education programme in 2005, reaching out to almost 43,000
students. In addition to the HPB programme, I understand that some
50 schools have also taken advantage of the Be Aware, Be Safe
programme developed by Standard Chartered Bank.
It is good to note
that many schools have chosen to make HIV/AIDS awareness a
priority by taking up such education programmes, and I commend all
of them. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage ALL
schools to organise such education programmes, especially with the
help of reliable partners such as HPB and Standard Chartered Bank.
If other agencies are used to deliver these programmes, I would
encourage principals to personally vet the programmes to make sure
that they are of sufficient standard in delivering the necessary
information to students. We are able to also track data on young
infected HIV persons - if we see any correlation to a particular
school, we will inform the school.
To the students here
who have been through the Be Aware, Be Safe Programme, I hope that
you now have the information and tools to protect yourselves. It
does ultimately boil down to the choices you make and I hope the
programme has helped you to realise that there are options that
will keep you safe and in good health, as you continue to explore
the boundless opportunities in life.
Let me end by inviting
you to join us in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Spread accurate
information to your friends who might not have attended similar
programmes as well as other people whom you know. Correct any
misconceptions they might have about HIV/AIDS. I am sure that
through all our concerted efforts, we will be able to win the
fight against HIV/AIDS.
I wish you all the