Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Crime, Homelessness and the AIDS crises in Singapore

For slowing the spread of the AIDS virus in the country, Singapore seems to have created all the right social ingredients. There is in fact no AIDS crises in the country and actual numbers from the UNAIDS indicate that approximately 4000 adults are living with HIV in that country. With an infection rate of less than 0.02 percent, this is far lower than many of its neighbors in the region.

Many reasons can be attributed to this. Among them, Singapore has a zero tolerance policy toward drug use and drug trafficking, the latter is punishable by death. (This clearly translates: no needle sharing program for which to actively debate its effectiveness) This no nonsense approach has more to do with the historical impact of drug use in the region dating back to the opium wars and their unwillingness to revoke a similarly dark period. Today Singapore is all but regressing. Its per capita income is approx. $25,000 and its GDP is expected to reach close to 6% this year. But its real success is its awareness to the interdependence of social ills and their causes/effects in the society. As I mentioned in a previous post (see To chew or not to chew), the country continues to boast an enviable crime rate when compared to other major cities. Although "low crime doesn’t mean no crime" ( a catchy phrase I’ve picked up here), incidents of violent crime and drug abuse/trafficking are minimal or not apparent. These are all social factors (especially drug use) which when prevalent, are largely associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Homelessness too in Singapore is a contributing factor. A factor because of its rarity that has helped to limit the disease’s spread. Homeless populations are usually a high risk group for being infected. This is mainly because of their participation in "risky behavior" such as needle sharing and prostitution. With the shocking availablity of public housing in Singapore (the newer ones looking quite appealing), the number of people that find themselves homeless is staggeringly low. The usual "risky behavior" sometimes associated with the homeless culture continue to be diminished. This as the government maintains its CPF (central provident fund: a much more advanced social security system than in the U.S.) to ensure access to home ownership by its citizens.

Despite all the good which is having a positive effect in lowering infected cases, stigmas and government lethargy in the area of patient care are still present. Individuals who have tested positive for HIV face all sorts of battles, the likes of which are not overcome by low crime rate or a high GDP. In the end, sensibility and care remain most crucial to those who need it most.

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