Like most couples, John (not his real name) would hug, kiss and share food with his partner. That’s not unusual – except that his partner is HIV-positive. John, a communications manager in his 40s, recalled: “He didn’t speak about his HIV status for the first few months. When I came to know, I wasn’t overly perturbed because we had been practising safe sex all the time.”
By this, John meant that they used condoms 100 per cent of the time to reduce his risk of contracting HIV. Like John, the majority of respondents (71 per cent) in a survey conducted by voluntary organisation Action for Aids (AFA) a year ago said they were aware that proper and regular use of condoms could prevent HIV transmission. But only a third (36.7 per cent) agreed that abstaining from sexual intercourse is also a plausible measure.
The survey of 289 walk-in customers to the M.A.C retail counter at departmental store Tangs was conducted to gauge public knowledge of HIV transmission and attitudes towards persons living with HIV/Aids. Over 90 per cent of the respondents correctly pointed out that one can get HIV from a tainted blood transfusion or the sharing of needles for injection.
Some misconceptions were that HIV can be transmitted through mosquito bites (12 per cent), by sharing meals with a HIV-positive person (7.3 per cent), from toilet seats (5.7 per cent) and by shaking hands (1 per cent). But knowledge of HIV transmissions did not mean positive attitudes towards HIV-infected persons.
When asked if they were willing to share a meal with a person infected with HIV, 33 per cent said no and another 12 per cent were unsure. This was even though more than 90 per cent correctly said the virus could not be transmitted through sharing food. Professor Roy Chan, president of AFA, said: “HIV-related stigma and discrimination is still a major problem among Singaporeans. Such attitudes not only prevent HIV-infected individuals from leading productive and meaningful lives, but also block effective and sustainable prevention and care programmes.”