17 August 2006

AIDS in Singapore

I had previously commented on two ST articles about AIDS in Singapore - click here and here. In both cases, the ST used statistics in a most misleading way. Today, the ST is once again twisting and tweaking numbers in a story about AIDS:
ST Aug 17, 2006
Rise in sex infections hastens need to educate the young
Threefold increase in cases among those aged 10-19; over 40 have HIV

SINGAPORE youths continue to be vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), with more than 40 Singaporeans aged 19 and below being diagnosed HIV-positive by the end of last year.

Over the last 20 years, more than 470 people have tested positive for HIV - the virus that causes Aids - when they were in the 20 to 29 age group.

And with a threefold increase in STIs such as gonorrhoea, genital herpes and warts between 2002 and 2004 among those aged 10 to 19, it has become even more urgent to step up HIV/Aids awareness efforts among youths here.

Okay .... based on the above, answer this simple question - how many Singapore youths were diagnosed with HIV last year?

When you're ready, scroll down.

Your answer was probably this - "More than 40 Singaporean youths were diagnosed with HIV last year." Furthermore, they were all naughty teenagers screwing around and in need of "education". Right?

Surprise, surprise. Actually, last year, only seven Singaporeans aged 19 and below were diagnosed to be HIV-positive. Out of those 7, three were babies born with HIV.

Why then did the ST say that "more than 40" Singaporeans in the 0-19 years category were diagnosed with HIV? To be more precise, there were 46 such Singaporeans. 25 of them were babies born HIV-positive. The other 21 were teenagers (in the 10-19 year category). What the ST didn't mention is that this is over a 20-year period (1985 to 2005).

So on average, over 20 years, about just one teenager is diagnosed to be HIV-positive each year.

The ST then mentions that over the past 20 years, more than 470 Singaporeans were diagnosed to be HIV-positive when they were between 20 and 29 years old. But this doesn't demonstrate any "rise in sex infections" in that age group. It's just a total figure which in itself reveals no trend (upward or downward) over the 20 years. Thus the figure in no way justifies the exciting title "Rise in sex infections hastens need to educate the young".

Especially when the education efforts that the article mentions are mainly for secondary school kids ... and not Singaporeans in the 20-29 age group.

Anyway, back to the "more than 470" figure for that age group. In the same 20-year period, 912 Singaporeans aged between 30 and 39 were found to be HIV-positive. 668 Singaporeans aged between 40 and 49 were found to be HIV-positive.

912 and 668 are both much bigger numbers than 470. So contrary to what the ST claims, it isn't at all obvious that AIDS is a more "urgent" problem among the youth, as opposed to those in their 30s or 40s.

My statistics on HIV are from the Ministry of Health.

As for the ST's third paragraph (regarding other STIs), I do not know what their source is. But are you still inclined to accept at face value anything that the ST says in this article? If so, you must be a fool. The article has little bits of manipulation all over the place. I'll just point out one last bit.
Last year, about seven in 10 secondary schools - totalling almost 43,000 students - took up the Health Promotion Board's STI/HIV programme.

Close to 50 schools from secondary to tertiary level have joined Standard Chartered
Bank's 'Be Aware, Be Safe' programme since its 2004 launch.

Students who have taken part in these programmes say they have helped to dispel many myths about HIV/Aids.

Said Temasek Secondary School student Tan Wei Sheng, 15: 'I used to believe that sharing a drink with someone with HIV/Aids would infect me too. I know better now.'

Describing the rising trend of STI cases among youths here as 'alarming', Senior Minister of State (Information, Communications and the Arts and Foreign Affairs) Balaji Sadasivan said students need 'comprehensive, accurate information about HIV/Aids and how to protect themselves'.
Here's the last bit of ST manipulation I want to point out:
At Temasek Secondary School yesterday, where Standard Chartered Singapore celebrated having reached out to 20,000 students here, the bank's chief executive Lim Cheng Teck reiterated its determination to drive the cause forward.

'We must remove the stigma of HIV, to increase empathy for the HIV community, increase awareness and change lives,' he said.

With around half of all people with HIV infected before they are 25, 'HIV infection can be prevented if the young are better informed and knowledgeable about the disease', he added.
"Half of all people with HIV are infected before they are 25" ....?

Hmmm, how could this possibly be correct? From figures mentioned earlier, we already know that:
1. 473 + 46 = 519 Singaporeans were diagnosed to be HIV-positive while they were below 29 years of age; and

2. A much larger number of Singaporeans (912 + 668 = 1580) were diagnosed to be HIV-positive in the 30-49 age group.

Thus a total of 519 + 1580 = 2099 Singaporeans were diagnosed before reaching the age of 50. Without even taking into account the infection rate among older Singaporeans (in their 50s, 60s, 70s ...), we note that 519 is already less than 25% of 2094. So it seems completely wrong to say that 50% of new infections happen to Singaporeans before they turn 25.

Another blunder by the ST? Seems that way. Wait, this time the ST has attributed the statement to Lim Cheng Teck, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank. Is Mr Lim the one who's talking nonsense then? I don't think so. Mr Lim was talking about Stanchart's AIDS awareness programme and he must have been citing the same figures found on Stanchart's HIV web page. The page cites a study which suggests that indeed, about half (50%) of new HIV infections happen between the ages of 15-24. Stanchart goes on to say that this is the age-group on which it wants to focus its awareness efforts.

What the ST conveniently forgot to tell you is that this study was a global one done by the United Nations. It is not just about Singapore alone. And Mr Lim wasn't talking just about Stanchart's AIDS awareness programme in Singapore - he was talking about Stanchart's AIDS awareness programme worldwide (spanning 50 countries). Hence he mentioned the UN study.

The ST had decided to quote Mr Lim and omit the proper context, so that the article would look more exciting. 50% of new infections afflicting ... YOUNG ..... Singaporeans! Urgent need to save them! That is the impression which the ST wants to give you. Mischevious, aren't they.

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Anonymous said...

Didn't read the full ST article - gave up reading ST a long time ago, so unable to comment on it. But TODAY gave a much better picture :

"Grim numbers released by Dr Balaji Sadasivan yesterday showed that the cases of sexually-transmitted infections (STI) among Singaporeans aged between 10 and 19 had increased markedly — from 250 in 2002 to 678 last year."

While this is for total STI, it is not too far off to presume that HIV infections will rise in tandem with cases of gnorrhoea/NGU/herpes.

As an aside, Mr Wang, it'll be interesting to have your take on this :


- ex-convict banned from delivery runs to Conrad during IMF.

Anonymous said...

Well done Mr Wang! Thank you for once again shredding the ST to pieces. I wonder who is the reporter and editor for the piece.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

One wonders whether there could be a misallocation of public resources ..... in the sense that we spend too much time & money reaching out in AIDS awareness efforts to secondary school/JC/poly kids, when more effort should really be made to target adults in their 30s or 40s.

Unfortunately, ST's reporting (past and present) only muddies the picture. The media seems to want to paint a picture of the typical Singaporean AIDS victim being a promiscuous, foolish young teenager, usually gay -

when from the MOH statistics, you know that a much more accurate typical profile would be:

single heterosexual Chinese male in his 30s or 40s.

Anonymous said...

Well that's journalism for you. Newspapers around the world, not just SIngapore alone, 'edit' (lets put it in a nicer way) so that their circulation can increase. So, hardly surprising. Whoever says that the ST is an objective newspaper is crazy.

Anonymous said...

aiyoh, y don't u jest send your critique to the ST? Otherwise u're just like the dog barking at the moon...

X said...

If that was possible, I think we would have seen a much better standard in the MSM's articles already.

le radical galoisien said...

This is nothing like the situation in the United States ... I can attest to the fact that Singaporean students tend to be way more conservative than their international counterparts.

le radical galoisien said...

If anything, the "sex education" needs to be more about rejecting stupid gender roles.

a singapore economist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

One of Dr Balaji's so-called "greatest achievements" was to lower the HIV infection rate. We were told Balaji succeeded where no other developed countries or Health Ministers had; lower the HIV infection rate. Since his implementations, the number of HIV infected patients fell by around 20%.
Does that mean that since becoming minister, he is now spending more time to "fix the opposition" and "buy supporters' votes"?

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,

In your article you mentioned "20 Year period (1995 to 2005)"

I think it should be (1985 to 2005) right?

From Chonghan

Anonymous said...

This does not follow from the HIV story but few days ago (3 maybe 4) I received an email from the Feedback Unit calling for comments/suggestions abt what S'poreans would like to hear in the Rally Speech this Sunday.

The next day however, the email was recalled with the cited reason being that it was prematurely sent out.

Prematurely sent out?? The speech is on Sunday, when do they want to send it out, by when do they want to sieve thru the suggestions and how are they going to incorporate anything useful into the speech by Sunday? And moreover it's a five day work week only :p

I don't want to call them out; or as we say in Singapore, I dowan to say them laa...but this smacks of disingenuousness...especially after making hay abt putting a new squad together at the Feedback Unit.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

ChongHan & Eric, thanks, I corrected the numbers.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:44

Who gets sent such email from the feedback unit? Is it the usual civil servants? How does the feedback unit decide on the persons to send to?

akikonomu said...

I received an email from the Feedback Unit calling for comments/suggestions abt what S'poreans would like to hear in the Rally Speech this Sunday.

Simply put, the recall was activated because it's too easy for bloggers and critics to spin this as a sign of incompetence and weakness.

Like: Does he have no idea what are the important issues to talk about in his NDRS? Does he have no agenda or vision that he wants to highlight to Singaporeans? Does any president consult a focus group on what he needs talk about in a state of the union address?

Anonymous said...


you register at the feedback unit website -> www.feedback.gov.sg

u'd get invitations to forums and stuff like dat but i dunno if they listen or its just there to absorb protests at the lack of consultation.

Anonymous said...


i dunno if you were just being ironic but in the US, the issues and the language of the state of the union address is rigorously poll tested.

they even go to absurd lengths of testing response within focus groups to different tones in which the speech is delivered by the speaker.

le radical galoisien said...

The American system is to be benchmarked for its separation of powers, not its state of politics.

I think the Swiss system is a better role model.

akikonomu said...

Anonymous at 12.55.55pm, you are somewhat mistaken in your confidence of your knowledge of American politics.

The state of the union address is rigorously poll-tested with focus groups *during* and *after* the speech. What I was discussing is the absurdity of the presidential address being poll-tested during its writing stage.

Anonymous said...

u wanna bet?

akikonomu said...

Anonymous, you are free to post links to educate us on the contrary.

nemes`S said...

yeah, it's perfectly fine for papers to alter truths - they serve a greater economic purpose too. thing is, what is it that drives this economic interest? in singapore, it's the government, and that's scary.