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     More than 40 Singaporeans aged 19 and below HIV-positive

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Standard Chartered Bank's Living with HIV - Be Aware, Be Safe Presentation

16 Aug 2006
By Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State
Venue: Temasek Secondary School


Distinguished Guests,
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 HIV/AIDS.

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 very best.

Thank you.

Source: News 16 Aug 2006