ST: 3.1% of men who have sex with men found to be HIV-infected in landmark HIV testing project in Singapore (May 23)

Friday, May 23, 2008

3.1% of men who have sex with men found to be HIV-infected in landmark HIV testing project in Singapore

Singapore – May 23, 2008 – 3.1% of men who have sex with men (MSM) were found to be HIV-infected in a landmark project to make HIV testing more accessible to the MSM community. Nine hundred and sixty MSM volunteered for the free and anonymous testing service at MSM frequented venues, of which 30 tested positive for HIV.

This HIV prevalence among MSM is one of the lowest in the region.

The objective of the initiative was to enhance HIV awareness, encourage HIV testing and gauge the acceptability of community based HIV-testing among MSM in Singapore. The project was conducted by AfA at venues and establishments frequented by MSM between December 2007 and February 2008, using the OraQuick test.

The effort was warmly received by people who participated in the outreach. Both members of the community and business owners were quick to praise the initiative, which was titled Take the Test. Take Control.

One participant remarked "Getting an HIV test can be a scary experience, but knowing one's status is really quite a liberating experience." It was his first HIV test, as it was for 27% of those who participated in the project.

"These findings suggest that while MSM are at high-risk for HIV infection, scaled up and targeted AIDS campaigns that include clear messages emphasizing correct & consistent condom use during anal intercourse and regular HIV testing have been effective in keeping the HIV prevalence among Singaporean MSM relatively low," says Mr Daniel Tung, Action for AIDS' MSM programme director.

"However the community must not become complacent, we cannot afford to drop our guard of adopting safer sex practices and specifically 100% condom use for anal intercourse. Complacency has been the case in many other cities that have recently documented alarming increases in HIV prevalence among MSM."

In a post-campaign survey following last year's *Think Again campaign, unprotected anal sex between men was found to have been reduced by between 22-27%compared to the statistics from the Behavioural Surveillance Studies (BSS) conducted by Fridae in 2006.

In the 2006 BSS, 46.9% of MSM surveyed had an HIV test in the preceding 12 months. The proportion of recent HIV testing is a result of community efforts to raise the awareness of the risk of HIV within the MSM community. AfA is aiming for this number to hit 80% by 2011.

To emphasise the message of personal responsibility, AfA, together with gay media company are launching a new campaign – We Can Stop AIDS Now. The campaign focuses on individual empowerment, and shows how HIV transmission can stop today if everyone plays their role. Campaign materials can be found at venues frequented by MSM, or by logging into www.stopaidsnow. info.

Action for AIDS would like to thank the community, business owners and volunteers who participated in this important project, and the Ministry of Health for providing the funding.