Sept 8, 2005So yet another silly episode in Singapore's war on AIDS comes to an end. But Mr Wang still says, "Huh?"
Action for Aids' probe dispels sex claims
Group's 106 volunteers deny any improper conduct with patients they were counselling
By Lee Hui Chieh
ALLEGATIONS that volunteers from Action for Aids (AFA) had been sexually intimate with people they were counselling have been found to be baseless, an investigation by the Aids awareness group has concluded.
The group's 106 active volunteers denied having sexual relations or engaging in improper conduct with the people they were counselling.
All the volunteers also denied having heard of other volunteers engaging in such behaviour, and most said they would inform their programme coordinator or AFA's executive committee if they found out about anyone doing so.
Ninety of the volunteers were interviewed face to face over five days, for about 30 minutes each.
Another 16 volunteers who could not make it to the interviews were asked to fill up questionnaires.
The interviews were done by two doctors from the National Skin Centre who are not AFA members - Dr Tan Hiok Hee, who heads its department of sexually transmitted infection control, and Dr Priya Sen, an associate consultant.
In their report, the investigators said: 'The volunteers are intensively trained and appear to maintain extremely high professional standards in their capacity as volunteers. They adhere strictly to the AFA volunteer code of conduct and it would seem that any allegations of AFA volunteers having physical or sexually intimate relations with clients were unfounded.'
For example, all the volunteers said that following AFA's rules, they would not give out their personal contact numbers to those they were helping, and do not lock doors during one-to-one counselling sessions.
The probe was sparked by a report in The New Paper on July 10, which said that five of AFA's volunteers had contracted the virus after becoming volunteers, and that there was concern that 'young male volunteers are coming forward because they see the MSM outreach programme as another avenue for them to meet other gay men'.
For the Health Ministry, however, the matter now appears to be closed.
In a statement yesterday, the ministry said it 'noted that the investigations did not uncover any unethical conduct, and that AFA is strengthening their internal control by instituting a written code of conduct'.
"Huh?" was Mr Wang's first reaction when he read the original report some time ago about this whole matter. Mr Wang's view was that even if the New Paper had got its facts completely right, there was absolutely nothing wrong with what AFA was doing.
You see, when a HIV-positive person has sex with a non-HIV-positive person, that's very high-risk sex. That's very dangerous. That's something which society should try very, very hard to prevent.
However, when a HIV-positive person has sex with another HIV-positive person, that's zero-risk sex. Both are already infected. Therefore there is no added risk of AIDS if they have sex with each other. Thus if a HIV-positive AFA volunteer has sex with another HIV-positive person, there is no cause for concern.
It is actually a good idea for HIV-positive persons to have sex with each other. The window period between getting the AIDS virus and developing full-blown AIDS is very long. It could be as long as five to 10 years. That's a very long time to expect an relatively healthy adult to completely abstain from sex. Most people are not designed for monkhood.
And complete abstinence is also unnecessary if there is nothing he can pass to his lover which his lover hasn't already got. Even a condom wouldn't be necessary (assuming that neither has other types of sexually transmitted diseases). If two HIV-positive persons become each other's sexual partner, it becomes much more possible for them to avoid seeking sex elsewhere and possibly endangering non-HIV-positive people.
Also I see nothing wrong with HIV-positive counsellors counselling other HIV-positive people. If anything, these counsellors will be better able to understand and empathise with the personal issues which the HIV-positive persons face. And surely there is nothing very unusual about this? I'm sure that if you go check up on, say, cancer support groups, you will find that some of the counsellors are also cancer patients or ex-cancer patients.
So what is the big deal, please?
Update! See comments section for a brief discussion on HIV superinfection, something which Mr Wang didn't know about earlier. See, you learn something every day.