Singapore announces plans to increase use of HIV tests

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Singapore announces plans to increase use of HIV tests

Singapore's Ministry of Health has announced it plans to expand the use of rapid HIV testing kits to more clinics in the country, Singapore's Today reports.

Only three clinics nationwide provide HIV testing under an anonymous rapid-test kit pilot programme. Standard HIV blood tests are conducted at hospitals and analysed only at approved laboratories, according to Today.

Although rapid-test kits, which cost about $50 each and take about 20 minutes, will be used at more clinics, anonymous testing will be available only at the three clinics participating in the pilot programme.

According to a health ministry spokesperson, voluntary, anonymous HIV testing is gaining more acceptance in the country (Tay, Today, 7/27).

About 700 people have received anonymous, rapid HIV tests, eight of whom have tested positive for HIV - about twice the number for a similar-sized sample in general population blood testing, Channel NewsAsia reports.

Most people who come forward for anonymous HIV testing are heterosexual and single. Nine out of 10 are younger than age 40, but the number of people older than age 40 has doubled during the past few months, Channel NewsAsia reports.

Tan Sze Wee - CEO of Rockeby Biomed, which supplies the rapid HIV testing kits - said that the people who come forward for anonymous HIV testing likely would engage in high-risk behaviors (Channel NewsAsia, 7/26).

According to Today, the biggest barrier to voluntary testing is that physicians are required to provide the names of HIV-positive people to the health ministry.

HIV testing is mandatory only for pregnant women and foreign workers applying for work permits.

Chua Thiam Eng, a general practitioner at Cambridge Clinic, said, "If we think about which situation we are better off with - continue not testing at all, or testing anonymously with the hope that these people take responsibility for the results - it is better to test."

Lionel Lee, executive director of Action for Aids, said that any testing program must have support mechanisms, such as counseling, in place.

Lee added that AFA's policy is to "counsel those who test positive to go into the system (by informing the Communicable Disease Centre), as this gives them better access to treatment and support" (Today, 7/27).

Published on the web by HIV-Aids on July 31, 2007. © HIV-Aids 2007. All rights reserved.