Ms Sumita Banerjee, executive director of local non-profit organisation Action for AIDS, said HIV medication has “really changed” over the last 20 years, to now allow those on treatment to have the same life expectancy as others.
She also highlighted new methods encouraging people to be diagnosed early, such as self-test swab kits that were introduced in Singapore in August.
While Mr Tan developed symptoms — a month-long fever — that led him to get tested in the first place, Sam did not have any before testing positive for HIV.
Sam stressed the importance of regular testing if one is at risk of contracting HIV, along with immediately starting on treatment.
Another new development is a long-acting injectable drug, given every two months, that protects those at high risk of HIV infection. The World Health Organisation recommended its use earlier this year.
“MOST EMPLOYERS DON’T REALLY CARE”
HIV is not life-threatening as long as one is receiving treatment — something many Singaporeans now understand, said Mr Tan.
He started noticing that public perception of HIV was shifting for the better shortly before January 2019, when the personal information of 14,200 people from Singapore’s HIV registry was leaked online.
The leaks included the names, identification numbers, phone numbers, addresses, HIV test results and medical information of Singaporeans and foreigners diagnosed as far back as 1985.
Mr Tan and Sam, who were not affected, said the data leak piqued Singaporeans’ interest in finding out more about HIV and in a way, helped reduce stigma.
“(But) I still think there are pockets of society that feel HIV is a ‘gay’ disease, even though it affects the heterosexual community as well,” said Sam.
For both men, however, worries about employment turned out to be unfounded.
Sam, who was about to enter university when he was diagnosed, rejected a study award from a Government ministry out of fear that he would be punished if they discovered he had HIV.
“It was only later on that I realised most employers don’t really care about your diagnosis, unless the profession requires it,” he said.