ST: Half say 'yes' to routine HIV test (Dec 27)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Half say 'yes' to routine HIV test
By Lee Hui Chieh

MORE than half - or 53 per cent - of the adult patients admitted to Changi General Hospital (CGH) said 'yes' to a routine test for the Aids-causing virus last week, the first week such screening was introduced.

Of an average of 115 patients admitted each day last week, 20 to 30 per cent were not tested for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) because they were either unconscious or unable to give consent.

That means that 17 to 27 per cent - or about one in five - had said 'no' to the test and the hospital is still studying their reasons CGH's chief executive officer, Mr T.K. Udairam, felt the glass was half-full rather than half-empty, and that Week One had gone well.

He said: 'As this is a new scheme, our aim is for the public to gradually accept the need for HIV testing. We're glad many of our patients are receptive. In fact, the hospital has also received calls from members of the public applauding the move.'

CGH declined to say if anyone tested positive. On Dec 17, CGH became the first hospital to carry out routine HIV testing for all adult patients admitted there, unless they choose not to have it.

A study of leftover blood samples this year showed that one in 350 hospital patients had HIV which was undiagnosed.

Early detection helps patients get timely treatment, which can prolong and improve the quality of life.

From January to October this year, 356 people were diagnosed with HIV, just one short of last year's record high of 357. This brings the total number infected since 1985 to 3,416, of whom at least 1,092 have died.

The number of patients who agree to routine HIV testing during hospitalisation is likely to grow, going by a similar screening programme for pregnant women, introduced in December 2004. The opt-out rate has dropped from 20 per cent initially, to less than two per cent now.

The screening has detected at least 28 infected women. All but one baby managed to escape infection, thanks to preventive treatment.