Statistics just recently released from the Ministry of Health (MOH) show that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections have been on the rise in Singapore annually, registering a record high of 422 diagnosed cases in 2007. The biggest proportion of total patient load is made up of people in their 20s and 30s.
The question being posed is when did these infected people actually contract the virus? When did they start having sex?
According to the Durex Global Sex Survey Report, the mean age at which Singaporeans lose their virginity is 18.4 years old. Given the way statistics come together, if the average is 18.4, just how many teens under the age of 18 are sexually active?
The actual number of teens registered in annual statistics as 'new' HIV positive can still only be counted on two hands and may not seem that significant. But disturbingly, the numbers keep creeping up quietly each year. This is in tandem with the rising trend of other sexually-transmitted infections among teens - which has also been progressively increasing over the years.
It was revealed last week that there were nine teenagers diagnosed with HIV last year, all between the ages of 17 and 19 when detected. This is an increase from one to four cases each year between 2003 and 2006.
Despite the increase in infections and the increase in 'premarital sex', the Ministry of Health is not rolling out its HIV prevention programmes to teens.
Health Minister, Khaw Boon Wan spoke to this subject in parliament recently, and said that the "ABC" (Abstinence, Be-Faithful and Condom-Use) message, if rolled-out or broadcast nationwide, would cause many parents to "be upset with such a campaign" and the government would be "accused of promoting promiscuity".
He then continued on to say "so the general broadcast has a small 'c'. On the other hand, the ABC campaign targeted at high-risk groups will have an enlarged "C" as the main theme"...
"WHAT THE????", Mr Health Minister???
This is similar to the argument put forward in the Section 377A debate (homosexuality in public - a topic for another time), that is "let us not upset the majority of the population who are conservative, or rather, heterosexual".... *sigh*.... however, Singaporean parents must realize in this instance, the majority of them could possibly be affected given the latest statistics. Whether they like it or not, there is around a 50% chance that their children will be having sex before they reach the age of 18.
That the importance of condom usage is overshadowed by the message of abstinence is very, very disturbing given these latest numbers around HIV infections.
I quote from the "Today" newspaper - "To wait until a youth presents a sexually-transmitted infection before counselling on safer sex kicks in is to behind a veil of ignorance".
In Australia, we have a saying that there's no point "bolting the gate after the horse has bolted".
The promotion of abstinence and faithfulness can be helpful, but the focus and emphasis really needs to be placed on condom use. One big question for Singaporeans here and now is: How will the authorities get the chance to help teens when premarital sex is emphasised as wrong? And do the sexuality and parenting programmes in place now equip parents adequately to talk to their children about condom use?
FINAL THOUGHT (from "Today"):
"Singapore's rapid development in the last 40 years has fast-tracked a generation that may hold different values from those of their parents. Whether one agrees with what teenagers do in their bedrooms is not the issue - and should not detract from the issue, which is: There is a need to implement an effective solution that will not stigmatise. It starts with acknowledging today's realities."