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.