One out of every five people living with HIV in Singapore has not been diagnosed.
That’s the latest from the city-state, presented during the 12th Singapore Aids Conference held last week in conjunction with World Aids Day, which falls on December 1.
The figure was part of an assessment of Singapore’s current progress to meet the United Nation’s “90-90-90” goals for tackling HIV. Currently, about 91% of those diagnosed with HIV in Singapore are receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy for it, and 91% of this group have suppressed the virus.
As for the third “90” goal, which is to have 90% of people living with HIV know their status, Singapore is at about 80%, up from 66% in 2014.
Speaking at the conference, Associate Professor Lee Cheng Chuan said that this number was around the global average, and the country’s achievements for the other two targets generally surpassed other regions. Prof Lee is a senior consultant with Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
The 80% figure was calculated using data from the national HIV registry database and modelled using a tool that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control uses.
“The progress we have made in terms of getting people tested and diagnosed with HIV has improved across the years, but this is something that we need to continue to push, because we want people to get diagnosed so that they can move towards treatment and viral suppression,” said Prof Lee.
Prof Roy Chan, President of Action for Aids Singapore, said that hitting the UN’s targets is not as important as seeing an improvement over time.
“The important thing for us to understand is, are we doing better? 90% is the first target… We can do much better than this; I think as a small country, we can hit 95%,” he said.
Prof Chan, who is also a senior consultant at the National Skin Centre and head of its Sexually Transmitted Infection Control Programme, said that the 20% of people living with HIV who remain undiagnosed is a “very big figure”.
“The (other goals) have always been the easier ones to attain because we are a small country, and once people are on treatment and have access to affordable care, they usually remain on treatment,” he added.
“The barrier is not just physical, it’s also the fear of being diagnosed… We need to try to reduce the stigmatisation of people living with HIV, and also to correct the misunderstanding that treatment is expensive,” he said.
There is also a need to help people overcome the fears of what may come with a diagnosis, such as potentially losing their jobs or being criminalised or stigmatised, he said.