World AIDS Day is a day to remember all those who have lost their lives to the illness. At the end of 2018, it is estimated that 32 million lives were lost worldwide to the disease. WHO had previously set the 90-90-90 target for countries in the world to achieve by 2020, 90% of those living with HIV will know their status, 90% of those who are positive are on ART treatment and 90% of those who are on treatment have undetectable levels of the virus. Let us take stock of what we have been able to achieve thus far.
Since then Singapore has risen to the challenge to achieve those goals.
Singapore has done well with 2 of the goals – 89% of those who are positive are on ART treatment and 94% of those who are on treatment achieved undetectable viral loads. However, much has to be done to improve on getting those living with HIV to know their status as only about 72% are aware they are positive for HIV.
Thus we need to encourage more people who are at risk of HIV infection to get tested. At Dr Tan and Partners we have been strong advocates of screening of HIV and STIs for at risk persons and provide a non-judgmental and LGBT-friendly environment to discuss your concerns. This is to help to protect their families and their loved ones. It is not uncommon for people that I see in my practice to tell me one of the reasons why they are reluctant to get tested is because they are afraid of what will happen if their families or their loved ones find out.
The other common concern is that they will lose their jobs. Finally there are still many misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted. I have patients who are concerned that because they share food with their families they can transmit HIV to their family which is of course not true. HIV is NOT transmitted via casual contact like sharing of food and drinks or shaking hands.
Of note in Singapore as of 2018, of all those who were tested positive more LGBTs are stepping up to get voluntary testing for HIV (20%) compared to heterosexuals (9%). Also importantly, in all newly diagnosed HIV persons in Singapore both homosexuals (42%) and heterosexuals (43%) contribute equally to number of cases. What this shows is that contrary to what some believe, HIV is NOT a homosexual disease but it is a disease that affects all sexual orientation.
Finally, there is strong evidence from large studies involving thousands of sero-discordant couples (that is one partner is HIV positive and the other partner is HIV negative) who have sexual acts between 2007-2016 showed that there was not a single case of HIV transmission to the HIV negative partner if the HIV positive treated partner has undetectable levels of HIV virus. This highlights the importance of treatment of HIV, that treatment of HIV can be successful in achieving undetectable levels of virus and that transmission of HIV is effectively blocked when levels of the virus is undetectable.
We are proud that our Doctors at DTAP have been actively involved in the fight against the HIV epidemic. Our Anonymous HIV Testing site at Robertson Walk has provided a safe space for thousands of people seeking confidential HIV testing since 2005. Our Doctors were the lead and co-lead authors of the Community Workforce section in the Blueprint to end HIV transmission and AIDS in Singapore by 2030. Our Doctors were also part of the Singapore HIV PrEP Taskforce and helped write the first ever local Singapore guidelines for the clinical management of HIV PrEP.
We will continue this fight until we see a world free of stigma, free of discrimination and hopefully free of HIV.
Dr. Julian Ng
Dr Julian Ng has 10 years of medical practice experience. He currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer of the DTAP Group of clinics in Singapore and Malaysia. He is also a member of the Singapore Men’s Health Society. His special interests are in the field Andrology, especially sexual health. He is currently practising at Dr Tan and Partners (DTAP) clinic at Novena Medical Centre.