HIV Discoverer criticizes Singapore for lack of free treatment

Simeon Bennett

The lack of free testing and treatment for HIV in Singapore is hindering progress on controlling the spread of the virus in the city-state, said Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her co-discovery of the virus that causes AIDS.

“The stigma, the fact that they have to pay for everything, it’s the worst conditions for stimulating people to be tested and treated,” Barre-Sinoussi, 62, said in an interview at the French embassy in Singapore today. “The numbers they announce are probably much lower than the numbers they have.”

New HIV infections in the nation of 4.6 million people rose to 456 in 2008 from 242 in 2003, according to the health ministry. In France, which has 64 million people, new cases fell to 6,940 from 8,930 over the same period, data presented at an AIDS conference last month show.

Singapore’s government has opened more anonymous testing clinics, boosted HIV education programs and produced a soap opera to curb new infections of HIV, which have doubled in the past 10 years, even as the spread of the virus slows in neighboring Malaysia and Thailand.

Treatment can cost as much as S$1,500 ($1,073) a month in Singapore, said Stuart Koe, chief executive officer of, Asia’s largest gay Web site. The government said in January it would subsidize HIV treatment for patients who can’t afford it.

An anonymous HIV test costs S$30, according to the Web site of Action for AIDS, which runs Singapore’s biggest anonymous testing clinic.

‘Difficult to accept’

“Coming from a country where everything is free, it’s difficult to accept,” Barre-Sinoussi said. “The situation is even worse than in developing countries not far from here. In Cambodia, everything is free.”

HIV-AIDS is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. About 33 million people were living with HIV, 2.7 million were newly infected with the virus and 2 million people died with AIDS in 2008, according to the latest World Health Organization estimates.

Barre-Sinoussi is director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. In 1983 she co-wrote a report with Luc Montagnier in the journal Science that detailed the discovery of the pathogen that later became known as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

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