My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

OTGV #57 - Aids Memorial

Broadcast Date: 17/05/04

There are a few reasons why HIV/AIDS patients aren't called patients, but sufferers.

They suffer the burden of knowing that their affliction has no cure;
That the only medication that can prolong their life may be far too expensive for them to buy;
And that the society will stigmatise them.

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

In Singapore, the media highlights the disease only in two occasions, the AIDS Candlelight Memorial on May 16th, and World AIDS Day on December first.

Action for Aids or AFA organiser for the Candlelight Memorial, Kelvin Wee on its significance.

"May 16th is the date that everyone in the world will be observing the AIDS Candlelight Memorial. It's an event that is held in over 85 countries and by 3000 communities. Singapore is just one of that many that's just doing it."

AFA's Vice-President Brenton Wong says it's the reluctance by the society to deal with HIV bug openly that hampers Singapore's fight against AIDS.

World Health Organisation's Director General Lee Jong Wook on why the world's losing the battle against the AIDS pandemic.

"We've been talking about prevention using condom without talking about mentioning the ability of medicine. Nobody told them that this is too expensive for them to buy so that you just go back and wait and die but people in the other parts of the world can live another ten, 15 years more. Nowadays, eight thousand people a day dying is equivalent to 30 jumbo jets crashing every day."

The costs of one year of HIV/AIDS medication in the form of the "triple cocktails" of required anti-retroviral may cost up to $10 thousand yearly.

Not many in Singapore can afford this exorbitant price tag so some go over to Thailand where the cheaper generic drugs are available.

Generic drugs are cheaper copies of brand-name drugs that cost about US$400.

The World Trade Organisation allows generic drugs to be produce if HIV/AIDS is classified as public healthcare threat by the country.

AFA's Brenton says developing countries have taken advantage of this provision but not developed economies like Singapore.

"The Doha declaration which states very specifically that it is public health over everything else which very few countries invoke because of the threat of sanctions from the US. Well, basically Singapore has signed off most of its rights with the American free trade agreement. So it is countries like Brazil who have flouted those rules by declaring an emergency and then producing their own drugs and they give 100 percent to their patients. And this is a developing country."

The UN health agency head Dr Lee Jong Wook talks about the W-H-O plans known as "3 by 5", to take the battle to the HIV/AIDS virus.

"Three million comes from the number 6 million who need the medicine today. People said at the time that this is a really ambitious, unattainable plan. When my staff presented this to me, I was under whelmed because we need to provide the drugs for six million people. Depending on where you stand, this can be overly ambitious or it is really too small."

Thailand, the country most hit by HIV/AIDS in Southeast Asia now has access to generic drugs

The sufferers here who couldn't afford the HIV drugs here but can afford to travel go to Thailand for the generic drugs.

But the sheer inconvenience of this may result in some of the HIV sufferers lapse in their medication.

This will create a more serious problem of cultivating drug-resistance strains of the HIV bug says Brenton.

"From our experience in talking to HIV-positive people in Singapore, we know that more than half of them cannot afford name-brand anti-retroviral so many of them either have to look for it elsewhere or go without medication. When a person takes HIV medication, it has to be for life to suppress the virus. Now if a person does not consistently take the drug, the chances of resistance developing is much higher. It has public health implications because if this person infects another person, then it would be a resistance strain."

That, incidentally, is Dr Lee Jong Wook's greatest fear.

"At this stage we have to be very very careful that this '3 By 5' if unwisely implemented can be an invitation for massive scale of drug resistance. With a limited number of drugs still effective for HIV-AIDS, this will be a real catastrophe."

Dr Lee says the government and public health planners must get into the act.

In Singapore, because of the social stigma and the costs of medication a HIV-positive diagnosis is viewed as a semi-death sentence.

This sense of fatalism that accompanies a diagnosis presents the most danger to society.

The existence of this mindset won't help the public health planners in their fight against HIV/AIDS says Brenton.

"I have spoken to many people and they say why bother to go for testing when I can't afford treatment in Singapore and there's no support anyway. So it shows up in our figures because more than half our patients who discover that they are HIV-positive discover it only when they are very sick and they are hospitalised and the doctors suggests an HIV-test. That means there are many people out there who are HIV-positive but do not know it because they do not want to be tested."

If not all "at-risk" Singapore residents go for HIV screening, then the total population of sufferers in Singapore will never be known.

This makes the silent risk even more silent, and even riskier.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.


Related Links:

Newsradio 938 (now 938Live) Image hosted by

UNAIDS Image hosted by

Ministry of Health Image hosted by

Action for AIDS Image hosted by


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