Singapore—For the first time, researchers are putting a number on possible infections among groups who are at risk of contracting HIV in the country. Researchers from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have estimated that around 210,000 men have sexual intercourse with other men, which is more than twice an earlier estimate of 90,000.
The researchers have identified four “hidden” groups that have the highest risk of getting and transmitting HIV, which are
—males who have sex with other males (210,000)
—male clients of female sex workers (72,000)
—female sex workers (4,200)
—intravenous drug users (11,000)
The study was published last month and was funded by the Health Promotion Board and the Singapore Population Health Improvement Centre.
The research endeavors to address a gap in the treatment of HIV due to the previous absence of a systematic approach to collecting data on the size of these key populations at risk of HIV.
According to the researchers, their work will help with the planning of care, treatment, and support for those infected with the disease.
The research team is made up of Mr Alvin Teo, Dr Kiesha Prem, Dr Mark Chen, Dr Adrian Roellin, Associate Professor Wong Mee Lian, Dr Hanh Hao La and Dr Alex Cook, who said, “The national size estimates of at-risk populations generated will help determine the magnitude and resources required for national HIV prevention and intervention efforts.”
And while Singapore’s HIV epidemic has been classified as low-level, the team noted that it is “likely to be a concentrated epidemic among key populations such as men who have sex with men”.
The study method the team used has been utilized in Ghana, Iran, Japan, among other countries, in order to determine the number of hard-to-reach populations at risk of HIV.
“It yielded important information for individual country-level HIV prevention programme planning, monitoring and evaluation,” according to the team.
The team as questions from respondents regarding attitudes toward sex work, intravenous drug use and gay sex. Participants perceived injecting drugs to be as socially acceptable as drunk driving, and sex work and gay sex were seen to be on the same level as children putting their elderly parents in a nursing home.
There are between 400 to 450 new cases of HIV every year, among which heterosexual men account for much of late diagnosis and onward transmission, according to local nonprofit Action for AIDS (AfA)./ TISG