EA Interview Transcript


Questions Answer
First of all, I just want to make sure; Are you comfortable with answering questions that ask your opinion about the Singaporean government? Okay, so I won’t answer if there’s any that I don’t want to answer.
Afa started in 1988 and I assume there were many difficulties or conflicts between the Singaporean government and society. Can you elaborate on some major barriers you have faced in the past?

Actually, there were no difficulties with the government.NGOs are established not because of the problems with the government but because that they find there might be an issue – that was the time that the HIV epidemic was at its peak. It hadn’t yet happened in Singapore but it was happening globally. Few advocates; physicians and lawyer got together and felt that there was a need to understand HIV and needs a national organisation that can provide certain services and information.

There was a lot of cooperation with the government and they were very receptive. Afa was able to get established and is today recognised as a national organisation NGO doing HIV work in Singapore. Afa received a lot of support from the government.

Why do you think there is so much stigma around homosexuality or HIV/AIDS in Singapore, especially in comparison to other economically developed countries? What is the cause?

Stigma and discrimination are everywhere even in the most developed countries. In the early days of HIV, there was only little treatment and awareness. And also HIV was associated with not only homosexuals but also drug users, sex workers or migrants. So any population that are marginalised who are associated with HIV faced discrimination. It was even worse because they were marginalised by the society historically.

Mainly because of the ignorance of modes of transmission. Lack of awareness on modes of transmission and HIV.

In Singapore:

The presence of the stigma is stronger is Singapore in comparison with other developed countries but no in relation to other certain developed countries; Japan, South Korea. So stigma is still around in Asian developed countries for its collectivist society. Asian families → family, family honour Western society → individualist societies

If you have certain legal frameworks, then you add on to the marginalisation of the population who would otherwise have access to HIV services.

Stigma around LGBT in Singapore We also work with MSM and we have witnessed something like section 377 A. When MSM seek for services, there is a fear of coming out and opening up their sexuality. This can be a barrier to access to HIV services and that is where we come and allow gay men to come to us to take testing for HIV prevention.  
What are the improvements that the Singaporean government has shown in relation to Afa or the topic of HIV/AIDS? Has the government become more cooperative?
What are the difficulties you still face today, due to the stigma around HIV/AIDS?

No – a few places that do HIV work and they work really well together. I have a background in global policy work and used to work with developing countries. The issues were often deeper like a lack of resources. And this does not happen in Singapore.

Singapore there is another issue – fewer people prefer to work in this area of work.

I’ve mentioned how Afa was formed in 1988, but do you think Afa has been gaining more legitimacy over the years? Why or why not? There has been cooperation with the government right from the beginning. There has never been a conflict with the government. ATS testing is run at DSC clinic which is a part of the government (part of the STI control). Afa sits on the policy-making part committee; National HIV Policy Forum. And it’s been there for quite a long time.
Educational campaign with the Singapore Ministry of Health That is a part of public health and specifically the educational sector; service and delivery component. Education means, it’s educating on the treatment of HIV.
In contrast to organisations like PinkDot, Afa has not been the subject to the government’s legal treatment/punishment. Why do you think that is?

Afa is different from PinkDot and Afa is focusing on HIV as a health issue. We are very clear that we are a health agency doing public health work for HIV. PinkDot is more like an advocacy on human rights and LGBT issues.

Afa does advocacy as well. It’s more activism towards LGBT issues. But our mandate is to provide public health services specifically related to HIV.

We have brought a lot as well; reduced the cost of HIV treatment, allowing HIV positive foreigners to come to Singapore on short-term visit pass. So there is a whole list of advocacy that Afa has done.

What do you think are the limitations of NGOs in Singapore?

Not really. I don’t think so.

I’m saying this because I’ve had experience in Singapore and outside of Singapore. I have seen no difference. In fact, because Singapore is a smaller country, some challenges that are faced in other countries are dissolved in Singapore. It’s much easier to bring about change here. It’s easier to discuss with the government and bring in our ideas. So I think some barriers are broken down here.

I had a similar viewpoint when I was working in London and had the same perception about NGOs and the Singaporean government. But I realised that it’s not an issue after working at Afa.

Do you think NGOs in Singapore are more restricted than NGOs in the Western world? No.
Has the number of volunteers increased over the years? Yes.
Why do you think people are more motivated to get involved and volunteer at Afa?

More awareness for HIV.

The younger generation are more aware of the marginalised society and human rights issues.

HIV; receptiveness of those whose access to health services are rejected, counselling, psychosocial health, human rights, gender equality, marginalisation, vulnerability, biomedical experience

Afa is also one of the few of the organisation that has never had an issue getting volunteers.

So do you think the rising number of volunteers is due to the rising legitimacy of the government? Legitimacy has always been there. It’s a well funded and respected organisation. It’s got funding from the government for many many years. So it’s the increased awareness.
What do you think is the one unique thing about Afa that allows it to have such extensive connections to various communities? It’s independence and it’s apart from the government. It also provides anonymous services and respects the individuals. We have worked hard over these years to have connections with the communities.
Pink Carpet

It has ATS; counselling and testing services. We provide differentiated testing and counselling to people who would otherwise not come to ATS. And we have started one for women as well.

These are led by themselves because people who are gay might not feel comfortable discussing their sexuality with a straight person. So it’s to promote testing and education among MSM.


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