In line with World Aids Day, the 7th Singapore Aids Conference was a coordinated effort to educate, influence, provide resources and effect lasting changes to protect society against the impact of HIV/Aids.
Contributed By Cara Ang
|CN PHOTO: Lim Chai Seng|
The biennial Singapore Aids Conference, co-organized by Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the Health Promotion Board and Action for Aids Singapore was conducted at the Orchard Hotel Singapore on Dec. 4. The conference brought together health care professionals, public health officials, community workers, volunteers, activists and persons living with HIV/Aids. The program included two keynote speeches and six symposia, namely Clinical Science, Epidemiology, Prevention, Community and Engagement, MSN & HIV and Human Rights.
The theme for the 7th SAC, Engaging Communities in Prevention, Care and Advocacy, underscored the importance of widening the responses toward Singapore’s Aids epidemic in this third decade. The conference aimed to include and reach out to more sectors of society and organizations to join in the battle to stop the spread of HIV and Aids-related discrimination in Singapore.
Thus, the 7th SAC had been redesigned for greater opportunities for exchange of ideas and discussion among speakers and audience; a number of symposia were designated as roundtable discussions that stimulated conversations and feedbacks.
Miia Lankinen, one of the speakers, shared in a talk about Standard Chartered Bank’s workplace HIV program, “Living With HIV.” Standard Chartered Bank has been actively engaged in the Aids response for almost ten years. “Living With HIV” is a staff volunteer network that has a comprehensive package delivering facts about HIV via online e-Learning modules. “Stigma is caused by fear of the unknown. By educating and raising awareness, being aware of the facts will help to clear the mist,” said Lankinen in her presentation.
Apart from educating and engaging the interest of the staff, Standard Chartered’s workplace program also consists of training staff to run the program and benefit other companies by sharing materials they developed. They aim to help participants to learn how to stamp out prejudice and ignorance by being informed on how to avoid passing the infection and getting infected.
Various booths selling artworks done by the terminally-ill were set up at the exhibition, with all proceeds going toward supporting the terminally-ill. Red ribbons, an international symbol of Aids awareness, were also available for sale to show participants support.
Jeremy Choy, project manager of FIRSTHand was present at the conference to share about current and the future plans and programs dedicated to serving their beneficiaries. FIRSTHand, which stands for Friends In Reaching and Serving the Terminally-ill, is a group of volunteers under the service arm of City Harvest Community Services Association who befriend and provide support services weekly to people living with HIV/Aids.
The first assignment they had was when they were approached by TTSH to provide counseling and emotional support to an HIV-positive couple. Subsequently when the patient care center at Communicable Disease Centre opened its doors for volunteer support, FIRSTHand responded to the call and became one of the very few volunteer groups to enter CDC’s premises to provide supportive services to its patients.
Over the years, volunteers of FIRSTHand have been carrying out various efforts that add value to the lives of people who are terminally-ill. These key efforts include befriending and outreach programs through visitations, providing emotional support and a listening ear, food and groceries delivery programs, music therapy and touch therapy—where trained volunteers offer massage services to the terminally-ill as a form of relaxation and circulation. Outings assistance such as excursions and educational events were also conducted by FIRSTHand.
As much as clients have benefited from these services, the volunteers themselves too have grown in character as they serve.
Choy then invited Herman Lim, a volunteer of FIRSTHand since 2003 to share his experiences as a volunteer. “Volunteering has molded me into a better person. Looking at the beneficiaries living their lives the best way they can reminds me of the tenacity and faith that I too must have. It is very rewarding to learn from them about how to find joy and count our blessings in everything.”
The 7th SAC did not just showcase many of the programs in place that are having a positive impact on the HIV/Aids community in Singapore, but also provided the participants with updates and insights in clinical advances, a review of the current state of the epidemic of HIV in Singapore and an opportunity to discuss the latest trends. By joining in the dialogue, participants were updated on how to reduce new infections and support people living with HIV.
SAC aims to reach out not just to health care workers but to any and everyone who is interested to know more about HIV/Aids and to be part of the efforts to stop the disease and to reduce its effects on society.
Facts And Stats
The World Health Organization established World Aids Day in 1988 in response to growing international concern over the spread of the epidemic. The first World Aids Day was initiated and is marked every year on Dec. 1. World Aids Day aims to raise money, increase vigil, fight stigma and improve education to tackle HIV prejudice and help stop the spread of the killer disease.
World Aids Day has now become an annual event in most countries, and is a time for people to understand and acknowledge the danger that HIV/Aids poses, and the extent to which it has spread around the world. It is also a call for people everywhere to show support and sympathy for the many victims of Aids worldwide.
HIV/Aids is probably the most serious public health problem facing the world today. First discovered in 1981, Aids is now spreading at an alarming rate around the globe. The estimated number of people living with HIV in the world today is over 40 million.
The Ministry of Health reported that about 373 Singaporeans were infected with HIV from January to October this year, bringing the total number of HIV cases in Singapore to 4,777. About 90 percent of the 169 cases reported between January and June this year were men. About 60 percent of the cases had late-stage HIV infection.