By A/Prof Sophia Archuleta, Director and Adj Asst Prof Wong Chen Seong, Deputy Director, National HIV Programme
HIV has become a simple condition to treat. Anti-retroviral therapy (ART) may not eliminate the infection, but suppression of the virus is highly effective at preventing its most serious consequence – AIDS. There is also now incontrovertible evidence that successful treatment makes it impossible for the virus to be transmitted to others through sex. This paradigm is now known as Undetectable = Untransmissible, or U=U.
The result of this is that with effective ART, people living with HIV can expect to live healthy, happy and productive lives. HIV is no longer a life-limiting diagnosis, and with access to treatment, people living with HIV are no different from people living with other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
Achieving this for all people living with HIV in Singapore is at the core of the National HIV Programme (NHIVP). This means providing patient-centred, evidence-based care for people living with HIV in Singapore. But the goals of HIV care go beyond the prolonging of life, to include the assurance of quality of life, so it also means challenging the stigma and discrimination which continues to affect the health and wellbeing of the individual, as well as for the community as a whole.
Our vision requires a concerted and multi-disciplinary effort involving professionals and community stakeholders alike. One of the core values guiding HIV care is that people living with HIV should be treated with dignity and respect, and the NHIVP aims to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination in Singapore by raising awareness of key messages:
Firstly, need people at risk of infection to come forth for testing, and if tested positive, to receive treatment and stay in care. We believe this is best achieved through increasing knowledge and awareness of HIV/AIDS, and reducing the stigma associated with the disease – something that the NHIVP will seek to achieve through our educational and outreach activities aimed at healthcare workers and members of the public alike.
Secondly, we strongly feel that people living with HIV should be treated fairly and equally in all domains. Their rights to employment, education, access to care, sexuality and service to society should be protected.
Thirdly, Prevention of HIV infection is also of vital importance, and we pursue this through traditional and innovative prevention strategies alike. Close co-operation between care providers, community-based organisations with a focus on HIV, policy-makers and public institutions, academics and researchers, and, most importantly, affected populations is needed to ensure the continued success of HIV care programmes in Singapore. This lies at the heart of the mission and vision of the National HIV Programme.
With the engagement and support of our stakeholders and partners, we have an ambitious goal: ending HIV in Singapore in our lifetimes!