What to Know About HIV Testing and Treatment in Singapore
Many in Singapore fear taking a HIV test due to the stigma attached to it. However, it’s important to understand that HIV screening is an important step in maintaining sexual health, and doing so early leads to better treatment and a lower risk of contagion. Here’s all you need to know about HIV testing in Singapore and what to do pre and post exposure.
What is HIV?
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells responsible for helping our body fight infection. It destroys CD4 lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that protect us against bacteria and harmful pathogens. Once infected, patients are more vulnerable to diseases and infections, and are at a higher risk of developing some cancers.
How is HIV transmitted?
In Singapore, over 400 new HIV cases are diagnosed every year. Unprotected sexual intercourse remains the primary mode of transmission; however other ways in which HIV is spread include:
- The sharing of HIV-infected needles and other piercing instruments used for tattooing or acupuncture
- An infected mother spreading the disease to her baby during pregnancy, at birth, or through breastfeeding
- The receiving of infected blood through blood transfusions or donations
HIV, however, is not spread through social and physical contact such as touching and hugging as well as the sharing of food. Mosquito bites do not count either.
How do I know I have HIV?
The best way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. HIV symptoms also typically do not appear for many years upon infection. Some symptoms include fever, fatigue and swollen glands but are often dismissed as the common flu, followed by a clinically latent period where there are no symptoms at all. This can last up to 10 years, and during this period, patients may be spreading the disease around unknowingly. In Singapore, under the Infectious Disease Act, it is an offence for an HIV-infected person to engage in activities that may encourage the spread of HIV.
How do I get tested for HIV in Singapore?
Testing for HIV in Singapore can be done at almost any health provider or clinic. There are two main ways for HIV testing to be done — a conventional laboratory-based blood test which will take up to 2 weeks waiting time, or through the use of a rapid HIV test kit which will take just 20 minutes for results to be out. Should you wish to remain anonymous, there are currently 10 clinics in Singapore that offer anonymous HIV testing.
Get the full list here.
How much does a HIV test cost in Singapore?
The cost of getting tested for HIV in Singapore ranges from $10 to $150. Generally, rapid testing at Anonymous HIV Testing centres will set you back about $50-150. Local organisation Action For Aids also provides anonymous HIV testing for $10-$20. Testing can also be done at polyclinics in Singapore. However, these are usually lab-based and will take a longer waiting time. They are also not anonymous and must be reported to the Ministry of Health.
Is there a cure for HIV in Singapore?
There is currently no cure for HIV. However, there are treatments and medication available in Singapore to help suppress the virus if detected early. Patients who seek treatment for HIV early go on to lead healthy and normal lives and are also expected to have a near-normal life expectancy.
Additionally, patients may also wish to consider HIV PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and HIV PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), which we will explain about further.
What is HIV PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), and how does it work?
HIV PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a drug prescribed to individuals who are at higher risk of getting HIV in Singapore. Research has shown that when administered daily, the drug significantly reduces the chances of contracting HIV by nearly 99% from sexual intercourse with HIV-infected partners and 74% from injections.
However, HIV PrEP is not a free pass to engage in unprotected sex — since PrEP only offers protection against HIV, it is highly advisable to still use condoms to protect yourself against other sexually transmitted diseases.
Is PrEP a vaccine for HIV in Singapore?
No, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis does not act as a vaccine. What it does is to prevent both the spread and occurrence of HIV in your body. As mentioned, it’s for individuals at a higher risk of contracting the disease, such as those with HIV-positive partners.
Am I suitable for PrEP?
Generally, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is recommended for those with multiple sexual partners and those with a HIV-positive partner and want to conceive. The drug can prevent both you and your foetus from contracting HIV during the pregnancy and during breastfeeding.
Should you wish to consider taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, do consult a healthcare professional.
For those who have been exposed to HIV recently, it is advisable to take Post-Exposure Prophylaxis.
What is HIV PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis)?
HIV PEP, or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a short term antiretroviral treatment used to reduce the likelihood of HIV in Singapore. It’s particularly used after potential exposure to the virus, either through sexual intercourse or accidental exposure. It is not meant to replace conventional HIV-prevention techniques, such as safe sex and the use of sterile needles during injections. As such, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis is only intended for emergency use and not for routine use.
When must I administer PEP?
The sooner, the better. It is mandated that the Post-Exposure Prophylaxis must be administered within 3 days (72 hours) after a potential HIV exposure. Following which, the medicine must be taken consecutively for 28 days.
However, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis is not a 100% guarantee against HIV, and HIV-prevention measures must still be in place even when you are on prescription. Further, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis may not work if you fail to take the medicine soon enough or inconsistently.
Am I suitable for PEP?
You should consider Post-Exposure Prophylaxis if you’re HIV negative and in the last three days:
- Had sexual intercourse with a HIV-infected person
- Was sexually assaulted
- Was exposed to contaminated needles or blades
- Suffered an eye splash injury
- Was exposed to body fluid, ulcers, semen or sores with someone of HIV-positive or HIV-unknown status
Before using Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, always speak to a doctor. It’s important to note that if you are HIV-positive and are unaware, using Post-Exposure Prophylaxis may increase the risk of HIV developing resistance to the medication.
So with that said, a HIV test is required before getting access to Post-Exposure Prophylaxis.
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