ST Online Forum: Beware the high-risk 'gay lifestyle'? Doctor's arguments flawed (Aug 13)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Beware the high-risk 'gay lifestyle'? Doctor's arguments flawed

I REFER to Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang's letter, "Beware the high-risk 'gay lifestyle' " (ST, Aug 8).

Even though I am neither a doctor nor a statistician, I can't help but question his arguments.

>>Yes, 1 in 350 random blood samples from government hospitals tested positive. But surely that sample cannot be compared to different data released by the Ministry of Health for people who actively go for HIV testing. The two categories would obviously produce different statistics. People who go for HIV testing either already belong to a high-risk group or have a specific reason for going (for example, just had unsafe sex with a prostitute in Batam). Which means that any extrapolating from these statistics is flawed.

>>Even more troubling, his conclusion that 'this means that someone who indulges in MSM (men having sex with men) and has 20 partners would have exposed himself to HIV' is just plain misleading. Even if Dr Chin's statistical extrapolations were accurate, this statement would only be true if that someone had unsafe sex with those 20 partners. Safe sex practices for both heterosexuals and MSM are known to be very effective. Had one or two of those 20 people been HIV-positive, the chances for someone who had safe-sex with them getting infected would be almost nil.

>>Vilifying groups of people and individuals because some among them have many sexual partners amounts to unproductive fanning of fear and prejudice. Plus it misses the point. Having responsible sex is not necessarily a bad thing. Having irresponsible unsafe sex is.

Which leads me to my point. Dr Chin mentions that he wants to highlight the unsafe behaviour on the part of MSM in light of the current review of the Penal Code relating to Section 377A . I assume he is against its repeal. But if Dr Chin and like-minded people are serious about the problem of HIV infection rates, then they should rally with their fellow Singaporeans to petition for the repeal Section 377A. That way the Ministry of Health and other concerned organisations can get on with the job of safe-sex education to all risk groups.

For as long as that left-over colonial law stands, not only will a vibrant Singaporean minority be branded as criminals, but they will also be denied the safe-sex education they should be getting. Which will only mean that our national statistics on HIV infection will only get worse, on every level.

Alan Seah Chang Wei