6 Dec 2005

Singapore's AIDS situation.

In an article entitled "Responding with Compassion", TODAYonline reports:

IN THE first such move, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will set up a fund early next year to help support HIV-positive women and children affected by Aids. The fund, to be managed by the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, will also cover the healthy children of those who have been infected, as well as those who have been orphaned. Announcing the fund at a forum yesterday, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts and Health said: "The problems women and children face are not purely medical. There are also a whole slew of social problems. "That is why we need community involvement and why we're setting up this fund, which I hope to launch soon."More details on the fund — which could contain "a few hundred thousand dollars", said Dr Sadasivan — will be released in about two weeks. He was speaking at a forum yesterday on gender and HIV/Aids organised by the Institute of South-east Asian Studies.

Some attention has also been given to the proposed availability of anonymous saliva testing in Singapore - another step in the right direction.

I'd be interested in seeing where money for the 'fund' will come from: to what extent will the government subsidise treatment for the HIV positive? As it stands, much healthcare in Singapore is subsidised, but as far as I'm aware, the drugs that suppress the development of full-blown AIDS in the HIV positive are not subsidised by the government in any way.

Although I think we should welcome the move toward greater state support for the HIV positive, one troubling feature of this proposal is its inherent sexism (and perhaps heterosexism). Why do only HIV infected women and children deserve support? I rather suspect it's because of a bifurcated perception of the HIV positive: that there are "good positives", who contracted the virus as the result of a blood transfusion, sexual intercourse within marriage, or because a parents was HIV positive; and "bad positives", who contracted the virus as a result of drug use or sexual intercourse outside marriage, in particular homosexual sexual intercourse.

Even if the source of infection could be so readily identified in any given HIV positive person, this discrimination would be pernicious. There should be no such thing as "good positives" and "bad positives." Someone who contracted HIV through an affair, a one-night stand, or through drug use, will suffer no less than will someone who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. At best they are guilty of a lack of prudence: a failure of judgment any of us could suffer on any one time, and for which they should not be so grievously punished. There but for Fortune could well go you or I.

So this discrimination is bad enough. But collapsing this into the broad categories of "women and children" and "men", so that all women and children are "good positives" and all men are "bad positives", distorts the picture even further and reinforces stereotypes about the sexual behaviour of men and women that belong in the Stone Age - as if a man could never contract HIV from an unfaithful wife.

Keep the fund. Get rid of the discrimination - against men, against women, against the foolish, against the unfortunate. They have enough trouble on their plate as it is.


soci said...

Have they given any justification for the focus on females and children?

It seems rather bizarre.

pantalaimon said...

My suspicion is that they think men who have AIDS by and large contracted it through visiting prostitutes or through homosexual intercourse, and therefore have "Bad AIDS" (you have to have seen Brass Eye, surely?) and don't deserve help, whereas women with HIV are all merely helpless sexless victims of their husbands' philandering, and have "Good AIDS."

Anonymous said...

Nothing bizarre at all. The KK Women's and Children's Hospital is not called women's and children's hospital for nothing. Or maybe some over here feel that in the interest of complete gender equality Singapore should never ever have even established a women's and children's hospital many years ago?

BTW, there are kids in Singapore who are orphaned because both parents succumbed to AIDS :-(

Anonymous said...

It is rather good if people are encouraged to be responsible for their actions (whether those actions result in good or bad consequences), and some societies actually do inculcate that virtue. Perhaps that is a concept alien to certain minds.

Those individuals on whom misfortune is visited through absolutely having no inkling that there could well be misfortune around the corner deserve all the support society can give them.

pantalaimon said...

Anon1: That's besides the point. There's an obvious reason for women and children to receive a different kind of medical treatment: women and children actually have different organs/physiological make up from men. And there would be a problem if there were only hospitals for women and children and no hospitals that men could go to, so your analogy doesn't hold. But AIDS is AIDS is AIDS: a male immune system fails as debilitatingly as a female one.

Anon2: "Absolutely no inkling"? That may be true for children who get it from their parents, but that's just not true of women who contract it from their boyfriends, or from a one-night stand - these things exist, remember? Women do it too, remember?! And anyway it's not as if the risk of your wife or husband cheating on you is always non-existent, so arguably if you want to protect only people with "absolutely no inkling" that they could contract AIDS, you can only protect people who never have sex of any kind whatsoever! Because condoms can fail and your spouse can cheat even if you don't. The logical conclusion of your argument is that you should be aware there's such a risk, so you shouldn't have sex, so you shouldn't have support if you do contract AIDS. Do you see that the lines aren't as clearcut as you think they are?

Plus, neither of you has addressed the point that it's not necessarily true that a man acquires AIDS through what you call irresponsible behaviour. A man can just as easily have a cheating wife. Or what about a gay man who is completely faithful to his life partner but whose partner cheats on him? Conversely, a woman may well sleep around, a woman may knowingly have sex with a HIV postive husband. What makes women immune from what you call irresponsibility? Take off the sexist blinkers for a moment.

Anonymous said...

pantalaimon, your points are well made, but they do not bear a close resemblance to the statistics on infection and how infection occurred. The Singaporean women who got infected were/are overwhelmingly married: they got it from their husbands, and it was their husbands who owned up to the health counsellors that they visited prostitutes (that is how it is done in Singapore -- contact tracing). Now, if the stats showed single women were the norm for infections among females then what you say gets a sympathetic hearing from this corner. But that isn't the case. What you throw up is a theory, NOT the reality as it is. The problem with some on this blog is their attachment to being PC (politically correct in the Western liberal sense), and deriving things from their mind which doesn't even have a remote resemblance to the rudimentary facts as it exist in THIS society.

pantalaimon said...

Just because statistics say something about a norm or a majority isn't a reason to penalise those people who don't fall within that norm or trend. The fact that there are "overwhelming" majorities in one sense doesn't change the fact that there are minorities, minorities composed of individuals who suffer the results of discrimination. In this case, the suffering may amount to premature death at the hands of horrifying, painful disease. Why should faithful gay men or the cuckolded husbands - however few they may be, each one is still a life - be punished because they happen to share the same gender as some people who are promiscuous and the unfaithful? (Even if we assume together with you that the promiscuous and unfaithful deserve to be condemned to intense, long-term suffering and an early demise, which I don't really believe.) It seems a far better system for the government to simply spent more money and help everyone with the disease. This is an especially compelling solution if you believe, as I do, that the lack of societal acceptance for homosexuality and homosexual civil partnerships is a large part of the reason for gay promiscuity. A society that creates the problem should help deal with it.

Anonymous said...

pantalaimon, I don't wish to debate with you any further beyond saying this: when you discover that your argument doesn't hold much water based on the realities of the particular situation on the ground in Singapore you shift the argument to the usual PC drivel. On that note, just to humour you, let me point out that there is tremendous acceptance of gays and now even the formal acceptance of their relationships, in the UK, yet over the past few years there has been a renewed upsurge in HIV infections amongst gay men in the UK, an upsurge that has been described of "alarming proportions". That particular route of infection has also been described by the authorities as the main one underpinning the pandemic in the UK. Cause and effect is clear, and yet for some they wish to throw up a smokescreen and interpret cause and effect in such a way that suits their own PC drivel.

pantalaimon said...

I completely fail to see how the fact that exceptions to the norm exist is "PC drivel" as opposed to mere cold and indeed pretty obvious logic, unless you think being gay EQUATES to being promiscuous or being male EQUATES to cheating on your spouse with 100% correspondence, which it quite obviously, even to the most ardent purveyor of stereotypes, does not. I don't give a rat's ass about being PC. I do care about people who get screwed over for no better reason than that they have penises.

The further point you have made, if true, addresses only the ancillary point I have made, not the main logic that there are people who don't fall into your neat categorical boxes who will suffer grievously and die early as a result of the absence of drugs. It might be worth pointing out in any case that cause and effect are not in fact that clear from your example - I might point to your own argument that Western countries are in some sense disanalogous from Singapore in terms of having a very different cultural set-up, particularly in their attitude towards sexual intercourse, which makes the application of such a statistic to Singapore (even if it proves anything in the UK context) a problematic exercise.

Anonymous said...

What about un married women who have AIDS? aren't they sluts who don't deserve help?

Shouldn't we classify the people according to their eating habits?
should people who drink sweet kopi every morning get any help in case of cardio-vascular disease?

Yes the cause of HIV infection for women is most of the time through the man, but are we to segregate based on that?

I grant you though that it is in KK's charter to attend specifically to women and children
Hopefully that will not prevent the [s]govt[/s] PAP from helping everyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality.

pleinelune said...

No matter what the "ground situation" is like, if the government is going to do anything about the AIDS situation [instead of just pointing fingers at the gay community occasionally], it ought to be dispensed equally to all, with no discrimination based on sex or orientation.

Perhaps the government is hoping that by withholding help to gay men, they'll all eventually die off.

lee hsien tau said...

OK. Since McDermott posed the question, I'll answer it?

When I was in the air force, there is this Malaysian PR soldier which made this observation:
'Singapore is unique in that the tanks and planes it buys all seem to be stationed overseas.'
I was wondering in my mind at that time, if Singapore and Malaysia were to come to war, whose side would he be on?

But since the earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and hurricanes that took place late 2004 and 2005 happened, may I add to his observation:
'It isn't just the main battle tanks and F15's that are stationed overseas. Our social workforce is entirely based overseas as well.'
The Ministry of Community Development only recognizes the needs of abused housewives and kids aged 14 and below. No other problems exist.

When I was studying for my ACCA, I frequented Orchard Road, and observed some deaf or dumb members of our society enjoying life and envied them. Why couldn't I be born deaf?

I think you get the picture? Charity (for the men in white) doesn't begin at home. It's like what you learn in Management and Strategy on how to spot a corporation like Enron and NKF. When you see the Rolls, fish tanks, gold-taps and fountains and maybe a roof-top helipad, start reviewing your investment portfolio.

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