AIDS - the very word evokes images of sex workers in Pattaya or emancipated patients in a South African infirmary ; places not exactly close to home.
Or so we think. The prevalence rate of AIDS in Singapore has gone steadily up and youths represented 15 percent of new cases last year. Oh yes, the clean, staid city-state notorious for its tough chewing gum laws has ( gasp ! ) the AIDS virus !
What is more alarming, however, is not the uptrend of new infections but rather our main attitudes toward sufferers - that " it wouldn't have happened to them if not for risky behaviours" and that being infected was their fault. Such views do little else other than exacerbate the stigma associated with AIDS sufferers. Sometimes the views may not even be valid i.e. rape victims who were infected by their attackers .
In any case, the onus is on us to remove the pall hanging over AIDS sufferers by acknowledging that we have a problem and facing it head-on, not by sweeping everything under our carpet to preserve our squeaky-clean image. The Action for Aids ( AFA ) has taken a huge step in providing free, anonymous HIV testing. Such a test should be seen as a medical necessity with no negative connotations and should be extended to pregnant women .
Despite the government's efforts in the field of education , pockets of ignorance still exist as evinced in the recent case of parents demanding that a childcare centre replace their restroom fittings after it was made known that one of the teachers is homosexual. Clearly, more can be done to raise awareness in youth and members of the public.
The question is, are we prepared to drop all of our preconceived notions, fears and prejudices to tackle HIV before it becomes the scourge of our society ?