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HIV awareness improving but rate of voluntary tests still low in Singapore

(Xinhua)

11:02, November 28, 2011

SINGAPORE, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- People are more aware of how to protect themselves from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in Singapore, but the rate of HIV infections detected through voluntary testing remained low, local daily Straits Times reported on Monday.

The results of a latest survey released by the Health Promotion Board showed that 67 percent of the respondents were aware of how to protect themselves from HIV infection -- by abstaining from casual sex, being faithful to an uninfected partner and using condoms correctly. In a 2007 survey, the level was only about 37 percent.

However, only about one in ten of the 221 new cases reported in the first half of the year was detected as a result of voluntary testing, Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said.

She said social stigma and fear of discrimination were among the main reasons for those at risk of infection not to go for voluntary testing. Lack of understanding is another major factor.

"There are people who feel that only certain groups are susceptible to HIV infection, and if their partners look healthy, then it's unlikely they are infected," Khor said.

The Ministry said it expects the final count of new infections for 2011 to be similar to last year, when 441 cases were reported.

Most of the new cases in the first half of this year -- 74 percent compared to 79 percent last year -- were detected when HIV testing was conducted as part of some form of health screening or medical care.

Khor, who is heading a National HIV/AIDS Policy Committee, said the committee would focus on education to raise public awareness about prevention measures and try to get more people to go for early testing, through its outreach efforts.

The Health Promotion Board is working with the Singapore National Employers Federation to review the federation's HIV/AIDS workplace guidelines, which were last revised in 2001. The new guidelines to be launched in January will include a list of frequently asked questions for human resource managers.

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