To help the authorities come up with a strategy to tackle the issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) among young Singaporeans, some Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) students have been roped in for an online survey on sexual behaviour.

When Desiree Teo, 24, knew that her best friend had tested to be HIV-positive, it dawned on her that being sexually active and not practising safe sex exacted a price.

Desiree felt that Singapore should take a more proactive approach in tackling the issue of the dangers of unsafe sex.

The idea that young people might contract STDs had never been “much of a big deal when my friends started to become sexually active at the ages of 16 without taking any necessary precautions,” she said

Desiree noted, “The fact that there is a steady increase in the number of Singaporeans infected with HIV and other STDs shows the authorities have to look into it and start doing something to salvage the sexual health of Singaporeans.”

The statistics are grim indeed. According to the Health Promotion Board (HPB), since the first case of HIV was reported in 1985, the number of HIV-infected Singaporeans has steadily increased to 2,703 cases as of December 2005. On top of that, 149 new HIV/Aids cases were reported in the first half of the year 2006.

Targetting Youths

To better understand how young Singaporeans think and behave when it comes to sexual matters, the HPB is conducting a National Behavioural Surveillance Survey, and a randomly selected number of students from NP are involved in it.

Youths are identified as one of the HPB’s main target group because, according to Ms Karen Cheong, HPB’s Manager for Research and Evaluation, “There is yet to be any relevant data or study conducted on tertiary students that the HPB can access to plan programmes and reach out to the tertiary age group.”

This survey is conducted to find out about young Singaporeans’ perceptions and awareness of STDs including HIV/Aids.

It also aims to help the HPB have a better understanding of Singaporeans’ sexual behaviour and, in turn, find a way to help bring the cases of STDs down.

Figures suggest that Singaporean youths are vulnerable to STDs as more than 40 youths aged 19 and below are HIV-positive carriers, a threefold increase from 2002 to 2004. Also, over the last 20 years, more than 470 people have tested positive for HIV in the 20-29 age group.

Authorities believe that the actual infection numbers might be 2 to 4 times higher because many are still unaware of their own infections or they choose to go overseas to get treatment for fear of being labelled or criticised by the people around them. In the case of Desiree’s friend, she is living life “to the fullest” as she does not know when full-blown AIDS will strike.

In addition, STDs have been on the rise among the youths. Another survey conducted in 2003/2004 on 500 youths between the ages of 15 and 29 by Action For Aids (AFA) showed that a quarter of them were sexually active.

These results suggest that the rise of STD cases including HIV/AIDS can be due to the youths being sexually active at a younger age with either 1 sex partner or more, said Ms Cheong.

Not only is this worrying, she said, the fact that being sexually active at a younger age might lead to unwanted pregnancies is also an issue that should not be taken lightly. Singapore has an abortion rate of 24.5 per 1,000 according to the Historical Abortion Statistics of Singapore.

HPB’s latest confidential survey plans to draw inputs from more than 10,000 Singaporeans. The selected respondents will receive letters from the HPB telling them to log onto the official website to fill out a questionnaire, which is available in the four official languages.

The results of the survey will be available at the end of 2007 and will help the HBP have a better idea on how to plan its education and prevention programmes for STDs, at the same time find the approach that will suit the various target groups.

Despite the statistics, young people seem to be mindful about talking about sex openly. The anonymity of the online survey seems to be a boon for some.

Ivan Teo, a second-year Business Studies (BS) student from NP who was picked as one of the respondents to take the National Behavioural Surveillance Survey, said, “Knowing that I can remain anonymous throughout the survey keeps my mind at ease and allows me to answer the questionnaire truthfully, without thinking what people will think of me.”

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