Hello everyone, I’m back with another story for the It Gets Better Project! After being very involved in the previous General Elections of Malaysia, I have come to realise that since, Malaysia, our former sibling, shares a similar culture & patois (even family, for some of us) with us Singaporeans, we can easily relate to their trials & tribulations.
I’ve decided to also help tell the stories of Malaysians who are living with HIV, whether they work/study in Singapore or are back in Malaysia. So I’ve extended the invitation to let Malaysians living with HIV to email me their experiences and response has been very good, I must say!
Today, I will be telling Milo’s story. Milo is a 23 year old guy living in Malaysia, and an aspiring doctor who has already completed his medical degree. I will let his words do the talking now.
I am Milo, 23 years old HIV-positive gay guy living in Malaysia. This, however, would be the first time I’d be reaching out to you, in response to your call for your It Gets Better personal project for PLHIV.
I tested as HIV + middle of last year (when I was 22 years old). At that time, I was a final year medical student studying in KL, Malaysia. Prior to my positive result, I have tested negative twice before (up until a few months before my diagnosis). It was around April to May last year that I’d noticed I’d have multiple swollen lymph nodes around my neck area (what I now know was persistent generalized lymphadenopathy). I’d gone to the doctor at my university to run a few tests just to rule out whether I had any serious condition like lymphoma or whatnot. Only when my physician pried on the my sexual behavior, did it occur to me that I could have HIV. And so I agreed to have my blood taken for the test.
Now I have to also tell you I have been dating a guy for more than a year (then), but my boyfriend was then busy studying for his exams, so I’d figured it would be wise holding back the information from him until his exams were over. The gravity of the situation only sank in when I told my best girl friend (fag hag, whatever you want to call it), after I came out of the physician’s office. She sat firmly beside me, lending me a crying shoulder, as I went through the most agonizing week of my life, holding back the information from my other-half and pretending everything was fine and dandy. When his exams were over, I finally sat him down in his bedroom, and told him everything with a straight face. That was when I knew he was the person with whom I am going to spend the rest of my life. Understandably, his problem was more with my infidelity (I’d slept with the stranger from an online gay-dating website when he was away for a weekend) than my diagnosis. I was prepared for the worse, and I did tell him I would understand if he wants me out of his life. But only after less than one day of deliberation, he’d decided that he loves me too much to let me go, and his love would be a lie, if he abandoned me when I needed him the most. True to his words, he has been my main source of strength, for me to come to terms with my diagnosis.
Nevertheless, our relationship was definitely strained. He’d needed a gesture from me to show that I, too, am committed to the relationship as he is. To do that, we drove back to my hometown, and I came out to my parents about my sexuality, and our relationship, but I chose to withhold my diagnosis from them.
My parents did not take the news too well. It turned out to be a tearful affair, as they’d thought they were going to lose me. My mother simply does not approve of a gay son, and my dad.. after that just chose to ignore it and decided that he should bond more with me. I have a sister, who, unfortunately, is working in a faraway land, and therefore, quite unavailable. Till now, I still am deliberating whether I should disclose my diagnosis to them. It would break my parents’ hearts. But the only reason I could survive without telling my family, was because I had the moral support from my partner to get things together. With regards to this issue, my take is that you should make sure you have a support system in place, people you can trust to be there when you need it, and trust me, you need the support.
My support system mainly consisted of my partner in my now serodiscordant relationship, his sister (who turned out to be incredibly positive and supportive) and her boyfriend, and my fag hag. One year on, only these four people know about my diagnosis. I will possibly tell my parents, once my affairs are all in order, meaning, once I am financially independent.
I started ART relatively early. After reading on the pros and cons of early commencement of treatment, I am convinced that starting treatment early is the better option. I knew I have to live with taking pills for the rest of my life, but why not, if the pills could keep me from dying a horrible, premature death. 4 months after my diagnosis (6 months after contracting it, according to my calculation), my physician started me on TENVIR-EM and Stocrin. As I had sought help in the public healthcare system, fortunately for me, the government of Malaysia fully subsidizes the first line of HAART, and I have not needed to pay a single cent for my treatment so far. Half a year into commencement of HAART, my viral load was found to be undetectable, but CD4 count was still rather low.
I am currently applying for a job as a trainee doctor with the government, and I have, in good faith, declared my condition to the governing body of doctors, in hopes that they would still hire me, since I have an undetectable viral load. I am still nervously waiting for the results of my application. God knows what they will do with my application form. I can only pray the people up there still have an ounce of respect for patient confidentiality.
After all I’ve gone through this past year, I know I can count myself lucky, to still have a roof over my head, to still have a loving partner (despite souring ties with my parents), and to have free HAART. Still, my struggles continue, particularly, in searching for a job now that I have graduated. It’d be great to know that I’m not alone in this struggle (and I know I’m not alone). I am very interested to know any pozzies in the medical field who have faced/are facing the same dilemma as I am now.
I am on twitter as @milopozo . I follow a few pozzies in M’sia and SG. I don’t tweet much, but I do regularly check my feed, as it makes me feel like I’m not alone in this world. Although this sometimes makes me feel like the creep at the corner of the playground happy with just watching the rest of the kids play. So I figured this is sort of my coming-out story as well, and to the pozzies in M’sia (and SG), feel free to add me on twitter. I really wouldn’t mind making a few poz friends since I frankly have none.
(POZboySG’s Ed note: If you’d like to send Milo words of encouragement or follow his tweets, you can find him at https://twitter.com/milopozo)
GC is a 32 year old Singaporean male who has been living with HIV for the last three years, having been diagnosed positive for HIV aged 29. He is born and bred in Singapore and works in a local institution in medical research. I am honoured to tell you GC’s story, after discovering through my email and Twitter DM correspondence, that he had been my fellow HIV support groupmate all those years ago. It feels so good to finally be in contact with a group mate once more!
GC, not unlike many of us, had never taken a HIV test before in his life, having been totally monogamous through out his romantic history. He felt that there was actually no need to get tested, or use protection, being a serial monogamist who had been nothing but faithful to his partner. GC adds, “But I was wrong! So long as you have sex, it is your responsibility to get tested. Don’t push it to other people, that’s just being irresponsible!”
Unfortunately, GC was admitted to the hospital three years ago for a serious case of Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), a HIV-related opportunistic infection, and it was only then that he got tested for HIV and the results came back positive. It was only after GC’s diagnosis that he found out that his 2nd ex-boyfriend had been sleeping around the one year they were together, and had unfortunately gotten infected. GC then surmises, “He never told me until I was so sick with PCP in the hospital that he finally admitted. I can only count my lucky stars that I didn’t infect my 3rd ex-boyfriend. I would have never forgiven myself if I had.”
GC is not unlike many of us HIV positive Singaporeans who have chosen to keep mum about their status, but fortunately, GC has close circle of friends who are very supportive and acknowledged the fact that they were the ones who really supported him in so many ways after being newly diagnosed. He, however, has chosen to not let his family members know, adding that he thinks his father suspects the condition. GC says that his parents are still coming to terms with his homosexuality, and believes that the HIV issue would just complicate matters. He adds, “I am not planning to tell them as I do not see the point of having more people worry for me.”
One can only imagine the immense pain and anguish GC has had to undergo during his brush with mortality due to the PCP infection and shock HIV diagnosis. He has been on First Line HIV antiretroviral medication ever since. His medications are Truvada (Tenofovir & Emtricitabine) and Stocrin (Efavirenz), taken as two pills every day. In the United States however, this drug cocktail is sold as a single tablet known as Atripla.
CDC pharmacy prices in Singapore for these medications are as such: Efavirenz (SGD $200) Tenofovir (SGD $550).
In order to save on cost, GC has however, opted to purchase his medications from generic HIV medication suppliers in Singapore who import them from Thailand, costing $130 a month for generic Truvada and $90 per month for generic Stocrin. His CDC doctor has also put him on a 6 month schedule and he spends about $120 on blood tests after government aid in the form of MediFund. Basically this works out to around $240 a month.
To help cope help cope & make sense of his medical condition, GC reads the two most informative HIV/AIDS resource websites on the Internet, namely www.thebody.com & www.aidsmap.com before adding, “some of my friends send me links to breakthroughs in HIV therapy. But during the initial period when I was trying to cope, I had to tell them to stop doing so. I guess I was like the ostrich with its head in the ground. I didn’t want to get reminded every minute that I am with this sickening condition. I needed desperately to feel normal again.”
GC also chronicles his life on Twitter as @pozguysg19. He enthuses thatit took himself around 2 years to finally feel like he was ready to face the world and adds, “When I was just diagnosed, I was told to go for this support group organised by the hospital. I guess at that time, when though I am not suicidal or anything, I felt disgusted with myself and I really didn’t want to be around people. I didn’t want to talk about it. Perhaps if I don’t talk about it, it will go away.” It was only sometime in 2012 where GC suddenly decided that this was not the way he wanted to live life as as HIV positive man.
He surmises, “I want to be happy, whatever that may take. And I guess sometimes happiness is really a decision, no one can really tell you to not be happy but yourself. Once I really believed in that, nothing can stop be and hence I started to reach out.”
Before we end GC’s courageous story, he hopes that by coming out in his own special way, on Twitter, he would be able to remove some of these uncertainties for people who are like himself & let them know that there is life after your HIV infection. GC also has a few words of advice for our readers especially those who are in limbo after testing positive for HIV, or are still in a conundrum whether to get tested or not, “If you are tested positive, remember this. Life goes on. And with current medication, it will go on for quite a while. As for how you want this life to go on, that is entirely up to you. I made my decision to be happy, and no one, and nothing, not even this cursed virus is going to stop that. Unless you really have some diagnosed mental condition, you can only be depressed if you let it be. I really believe in that. No one is in charge of your happiness, but you!”
I thank you for taking the time to read GC’s story.
(POZboy’s Ed Note - If you’d like to contact GC, you may do so by saying hi to him on Twitter, at @pozguysg19)
Message on the World AIDS Day
01 December 2012, ASEAN Secretariat News
As we are approaching the end of 2012, we have come to a point where controlling the HIV epidemic becomes imperative as we move forward to the accomplishment of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). At the same time, the world witnessed stronger evidences of a controlled HIV epidemic through the following: scaled-up treatment; better access to prevention services; and engagement of communities of key affected population in prevention efforts. In other words, the vision of Getting to the three zeroes, that is Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination, Zero AIDS Related Deaths, is now becoming a reality. ASEAN’s commitment to realising this vision was strengthened at the 11th AHMM in Phuket, Thailand, while operationalisation is commencing through the ASEAN Cities Getting to Zero initiative in 12 cities within the ASEAN region.
Yet, we observe that reaching the three zeroes will be impossible without true equity among ASEAN communities. Women and children have shown greater vulnerability to the infection caused by inequity in society — whether based on cultural values or lack of economic and political powers.
It is well known that current HIV programmes that reached women have been challenging — whether these will involve the promotion of safe sex; exchange programme for clean syringes and needles for harm reduction; activities for affordable and accessible HIV testing and treatment; or even just to promote a violence-free environment. Consequently, children were also put at risk.
Therefore, it is our strong belief that HIV and AIDS can only be truly controlled with the existence of gender equality, protection of women and children and the fulfillment of child’s right — in particular, the right to health.
It is our common responsibility and that of the government, non-government, private sectors, civil societies, and including key affected populations, to provide early, comprehensive, quality services and affordable HIV testing and anti-retrovirals (ARV); and, prevention services and social support needed by key affected populations.
Let this be the year when ASEAN nations spirited by solidarity and cordiality as a community together with the world takes affirmative actions to ensure that beyond 2015 the world has reached “Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths”.
As promised a week or so ago, this is now a follow up of Ben’s experience being a Singaporean seeking treatment for his newly-diagnosed HIV in Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital and the Thai Red Cross AIDS Clinic (You can click on the previous blogpost HERE). Good news abound thus far, I will now let Ben tell you his experience in his own words.
Hi again Friends,
So 3 months from the initial visit, I went back to Bumrungrad in anticipation and fear. I was excited to see if my meds would be working, yet fearful of the possibility that my meds weren’t working. The good thing about treatment in Bangkok is, if you send in your bloodwork before 9am on Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, you can get the results on the same day after 6pm. And this was what I chose to do in order to expedite results and not dilly. That way, I don’t have to worry unnecessarily, also after I know my results are alright, I get to party and enjoy my vacation in Bangkok too!
I collected my medication the following day at Thai Red Cross for the cost of 10980 Baht (SGD $437) for 6 months’ medication (Stocrin + Generic Truvada).
I did the following blood tests,
2) Viral Load
These tests together with hospital fee came up to 7580 Baht (SGD $301). I got the results that day, and the doctor fee with the hospital fee came up to 810 Baht (SGD $32).
I heaved a sigh of relief when Dr Mattana flashed a smile as she saw my results.
After 3 months of medication, my Viral Load had gone down to 194 copies/ml and my CD4 count was now 1017! Also my % CD4 had risen to 27.6%, up from 15.4% that was 3 months ago. IT WAS TIME TO PARTY! (SAFE of course.) :P
Fast forward 6 months. I was back in Bangkok once more. Again, I was feeling the unnecessary pressure of whether my meds were working or otherwise. Even though I hadn’t missed any dose, I did take 1 or 2 slightly later than normal; there was perhaps an irrational fear that my meds were not going to continue working.
Having trudged to the hospital to send my bloodwork in by 9am, I watched as they drew the same 4 tubes of blood for the same 5 tests as above. Have I mentioned how much I HATE NEEDLES?! Fortunately, the nurses at Bumrungrad are really professional and I am starting to accept drawing blood and medical examinations are now part of my life.
The tests and my consultation with Dr Mattana cost me a grand total of 8500 Baht (SGD $338) (7540 Baht for tests, 210 Baht for hospital fee, 750 Baht for doctor fee)
My results came out and YAY, good news yet again. CD4 1008, and %CD4 went up to 32.6%! Last but not least, Viral Load dropped to undetectable limits below 20copies/ml, a sure sign my meds are working, and as long as I continue to take my medicine, I CAN LIVE A FRUITFUL LIFE! I collected my medication the following day at Thai Red Cross for the same costs 10980 THB (SGD $437) for 6 months’ medication. And so the party began!
I’m about to travel to BKK for my next test, and as the time comes closer, I am getting more nervous about it. But I have been taking my medicine, and I am optimistic that things are going to be fine!
The point that I am trying to bring across is GET TESTED EARLY. and if you test positive, its not the end of your life. the next step, GET TREATED EARLY! I was lucky, I was discovered in the 6th month of infection, and started treatment around my 10th month of infection. That is why I fared better than quite a few horror stories I’ve heard from my Poz Peers. It does get better. If you need help with seeking treatment, and want to ask me more questions about treatment in BKK, feel free to ask.
(POZboy’s Ed Note - If you’d like to contact Ben, you may do so by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
‘Juan’ is a friend I’ve made being on Twitter so far (1.5 years and counting!). He has trusted me to help share his lifestory with all of you. If you’re on Twitter, you might like to visit his tweets and send him messages of encouragement! The story below has been composed solely by ‘Juan’. Do read so you may understand.
He sat me down in the cold room, looked at me, before letting out a sigh and said: “You do know what this is for right?”
And at the back of my mind, something in me knew did not want to hear the answer, yet I knew I was resigned to my fate.
“You’ve tested positive.”
Hi, my name is Juan (not my real name); I am turning 22 this year, and this is my story.
Just barely two months ago, the term HIV didn’t strike me as something personal. To me, it felt like, “something someone else would get, and I wouldn’t get it.” I guess it’s the feeling of being young, of feeling invincible.
But all that soon changed.
It was the routine pre-ORD check all full-time national servicemen need to go through. One of the tests done was the HIV blood test. Now being the clueless kid I was, I didn’t know what the blood test entailed. I had heard rumors of it being a HIV check; some said it was a check for other ailments. Nonetheless I underwent the check, thinking, of course, nothing would go wrong in this minor formality.
Then came the phone call on afternoon. “The MO needs to see you urgently.”
At the point in time, I didn’t know what to think. Perhaps something was wrong with me, or perhaps they lost my blood sample.
Or perhaps I had HIV.
The day came for me to receive the news at the medical centre. I was worried as anything, and when it came to me, it hit me like a truck at full-speed. I just fell silent, and sighed.
What I felt was strange on the day was how I didn’t want to think about how I got it, but rather, what should go on from this juncture.
Then came the dilemma of disclosure which buzzed in my head for the whole period of time I was at the medical centre. I didn’t know if I should disclose my status to my Mother, who was my only other family member (Dad left when I was really young). It ached me to think about the hurt I would cause by telling Mother.
But it was something the MO (Medical Officer) said that made me take the next step.
“I would tell her, because she is my only source of strength.”
That night came disclosure and a lot of hurt. I wound up telling my mom about everything, and instead of tears and all, she turned out to be surprisingly stoic about it. I was the extreme opposite - a blubbering mess of tears and emotions.
What she did say the next morning made me feel even sadder though. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do anything in the night,” she said.
I guess by telling her about my HIV did hurt her (after all to see your only child go through this and face stigma will be painful), but I am glad I told her because I would implode if I didn’t. I felt better after discloing because I didn’t need to feel like I was hiding things. She did tell me her greatest fear for me after knowing was not so much my health, but for my future, because I guess she knows the stigma and hurdles PLHIV need to go through.
Things got better (they always do I believe) after my initial visit to CDC (Communicable Diseases Centre), where the doctors and medical social workers reassured my Mom that everything would be fine.
I guess she really heaved a sigh of relief when she knew my initial CD4 count was above average - 513. :) It also helped that I did not need to start on medications this time around, although my doctor has been egging me on to get started.
Apart from my Mom, I have two other friends who know about this. The first is a close male friend, also gay, who stayed by me throughout the period of time I was awaiting my test results in camp. He was the first friend to know of my diagnosis, and I was genuinely touched by his concern.
The second is my best gall, who I came out to in Polytechnic. It was weird disclosing to her, because by then, I had undergone sessions at CDC, and my life was slowly regaining its normality. But I guess because she was the first person I really came out to, so I felt compelled to let her know, as a friend. She was shocked to know, because like me, she thought we were infallible; we were indestructible. I’m glad I told her, because now we talk more openly, like how we used to.
Looking back on my journey with HIV, I would have to say that I am blessed to have a relatively fuss-free path. That’s not to say that my path has been smooth though. I am thankful for the support from my mom and my two close friends. That, and the new HIV positive friends I made at one support group session. I think it’s good to know that there are people who are just like you - young, with goals and dreams - who are with HIV too. It’s interesting to see how people cope differently, and definitely I am learning about coping with medication from them, when the time for me to start my medications comes.
I think one important mantra to adopt when you discover you are diagnosed with HIV is to not take the reproachful approach, but rather, take the proactive approach. I feel that one should not question the “why?” (as in “Why did I end up with this?” and so on) but rather question the “What’s next?”. For me, taking this approach made me re-assess my goals (I gave up and withdrew from an award I fought hard for) and made me sit up and take stock of what I want to do.
I think being forward looking helps. It is no point harping on who might have infected you, or why you got this - one needs to take control of life from this point on. Someone in my support group said that, “This is a new chapter of your life; you need to write the chapters of your life.”
For those that worry about disclosure to their parents, I urge them to reconsider. I disclosed because I know our relationship, and the fact we draw strength form one another. It also pays to remember one line my mom told me after disclosing to her, “No matter what happens, you are still my son, and I will journey with you on this road.” It is a bittersweet line that is exceptionally poignant, and it is worth recalling for those who worry about repercussions.
Also, it is worth remembering that not everyone needs to know about your status. Share it with those who need to know, and those who really care. Granted, sometimes relationships may falter, but those that stay on will only emerge stronger. :)
For those that worry about the future too much like I do sometimes, sometimes it’s okay to just stop and take in the now, and be thankful for the things you have. The feeling of being thankful helps one to move along in life. If you fear things, and if you fear your illness, this can only mean that the illness has won half the battle. Remember, you have not fallen down and you will be the person you always are.
You must also remember that you are not alone in this, and if you need help, help is always available! (I can help listen too, if you want!)
And so my journey with HIV has only just begun; I know that this will be a long journey, lasting my whole life. It won’t be smooth, neither do I hope it be very rocky., but this is what is willed to me. :)
Like the saying goes - “This is the new normal.”
To many great things in life,
Hello everyone, as you all know, I am currently doing a personal project which will focus on the HIV/AIDS issue in Singapore. My focus will be on HIV positive men and women living in Singapore and I want to tell your story (of course it shall be anonymous) through my blogposts here.
With the rise of Social Media, be they Formspring, Twitter, or here on Tumblr, I feel that its a very good platform for us HIV positive Singaporeans to tell our varied stories and create an awareness to the general populace in the hope that we can lessen the stigma attached to PLHIV. I hope you can join me on this project and I’d appreciate if you’d be a willing participant.
So here is the list of questions I will be asking you. I’ve made it such that, I will not be asking you personally intrusive questions like “address”, “who do you think infected you” and “real name” (like, duh) but I would like to know your age so I can help tell your story to the best I can. Let’s go!
- What is your name? (an alias please! I want to protect your privacy!)
- What is your age today?
- How old were you at the time of your HIV diagnosis?
- What made you go get tested for HIV? Any tests taken before?
- What were your feelings when you first took that HIV test? - Do your family members know? - IF YES - Are they supportive? - IF NO - Are you planning to tell them?
- Any advice for newly diagnozed HIV positive Singaporeans with regards to this issue i.e. family?
- What about close friends? - IF YES - Why did you choose to tell your friends? Are they supportive with your condition?
- Are you on HIV medications now? (ARV/HAART) - IF YES - What are they? Do share your medication regime. Are they First Line HIV meds or Second Line ones? Are you on MediFund and buy from the gov’t pharmacy OR do you go to Thailand and get them there OR are you on generic medication? (Its good to tell the cost you spend every month on your meds too) - IF NO - Do you have any concerns (personal or otherwise) with regards to starting HIV medication?
- Any publications or websites that you visit and/or read to help cope & make sense of your medical condition? Do share for the benefit of your readers.
- Do you have an anonymous Twitter account or social media outlet where you chronicle your experiences living life with HIV? - IF YES - What made you start the account? You can share your story here.
- What do you want to tell other Singaporeans who are afraid to go get tested for HIV and other STDs, or are in a state of limbo after just recently testing positive? Its good to give me your takeaway on your life experience.
Okay? Good to go? Here’s the questionnaire, you can take your time to craft your answers. Own Time Own Target. Email your completed questionnaires to my email address at email@example.com and I will liaise with you from then on. I will craft a blogpost from the answers you’ve given me and let you vet them before I post them up on Tumblr.
Don’t worry, everything will be in strict confidence, secret, even! It’ll be good if you have an anonymous email account as well, so everything will be much more safer. Thank you again for being a willing participant in this HIV It Gets Better Project! I hope to hear from you soon. :))
Today, I will be sharing you a letter a fellow HIV+ Singaporean has composed for his friends, and all of us to read, about his experiences as a newly diagnosed PLHIV (Person Living with HIV). I shall name him Ben. He has chosen to seek treatment for his HIV overseas, in Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital, Thailand. I have to agree the lower costs of treatment and the anonymity Bumrungrad provides does seem to appeal to me. I am also considering seeking treatment overseas from next year (2013) onward.
In this letter Ben has addressed to all of us, he will detail the costs of seeking treatment for HIV in Bangkok, as well as accommodation and expenses. He hopes that, this information will be useful for those of you who are seeking alternative hospitals to seek treatment. Always remember, HIV treatment is HIV prevention.
This will be a word for word blogpost in order to adhere to the integrity of Ben’s writing style. A follow up post telling his story will come up next, so stay tuned.
I just came back from my trip to Bangkok for treatment at Bumrungrad Hospital. It was a very nice hospital, and the medical facilities there were very impressive. It looked more like at 5-star hotel than a hospital actually. I booked my appointment a month earlier on the Bumrungrad Hospital website with Dr Mattana Hanvanich. You can choose your own doctor under the Infectious Diseases Department. I personally chose her because she looked very motherly, which turned out to be true. In any case, I am sure the other doctors would be able to do as good a job.
Having met up with her to discuss my condition, she sent me immediately for a series of tests. These tests are as follows:
1) HIV Viral Load
2) CD4 Cell Count
3) Hep A
4) Hep B
5) Hep C
6) Hep B Immunity
This series of test, including the doctor’s fee cost me 11140 Baht (SGD $443). This series of test is both to determine CD4, Viral load, and also the presence of other viruses, so as to determine the state of my immune system.
On the 2nd day, I met up with her again to review the results of my tests. My Viral load was 238000, relatively high, and CD4 was 418, quite low. As she mentioned, this is the start of the infection (first 6 months) so this is not a unexpected outcome. She gave me a choice to monitor the situation first, as she said the body will usually improve as it gets used to the virus, before starting medication. But personally, since I wanted to begin medication as soon as possible. She then followed up with another series of tests, which was to determine my body’s condition before I started on medication, so that there is a set of results to compare to when I start medication and test my body again. This set of tests include:
1) Urine Tests
2) Blood Sugar
3) Lipid Test
4) Serum Creatinine (Liver)
5) Uric Acid
8) A few other tests I do not know what it is for.
I was advised to do the HIV Genotype test to see if mine is a resistant strain. As this cost 11500 baht (SGD $444) at the hospital, and the results would take 3 weeks to come out, I decided not to do it first. She said she could save the virus at the hospital for 6 months, so that if I do not respond to the medication, they can run a test on the virus then, and then I will pay then. If I respond to the medication, then I would not need to do the test. In any case, this test is available in the Thai Red Cross Anonymous HIV Clinic at 5000 baht (SGD $199) and would take the same time.
The total cost of these tests was 5200 baht (SGD $207) including the doctor fee for the second day. I then went back on the third day for a review of the results.
On the third visit, my tests results were generally fine and I was advised to start on “Truvada” and “Stocrin”. This would cost 4000+ baht (SGD $160)per month at the hospital. However, as cost was an issue, I asked for a prescription to collect medicine at the Thai Red Cross Anonymous HIV Clinic. Dr Mattana then advised me that I can get a generic version of Truvada that has been approved. This would save me even more costs, and I was glad to hear that.
The third visit cost me 710 baht (SGD $28) as I bid farewell to Dr Mattana before I return in January for a review. She mentioned that on my return, she would need to do the following tests:
1) HIV Viral Load
4) Serum Creatinine
Test 3) and 4) are to determine my liver function as one of the side effects of Truvada is liver failure in a very small percentage of people.
I wanted to collect my medicine on the same day but I was informed that I could not as the Anonymous Clinic was only open from 8am to 430pm every day.
The following day, I went to the Anonymous Clinic to collect my medicine. I had to pay 20 baht to be a member. My medication for 4 months cost me 7320 baht (SGD $291), a fraction of the costs of the medication in Singapore. I collected 4 months of Stocrin, and 4 months supply of Ricovir-EM, the Thai generic version of Truvada.
I asked Dr Mattana if it was okay, and she said they are of the same quality, just that the drug companies were nice enough not to patent it in Thailand and India, so the generic versions could be sold at lower prices.
So 4 days in BKK, and I had everything I needed to start. I did start on medication that night, it was very strong, and made me very drowsy (similar to being drunk), but now I am on day 3 of my meds, and so far so good, I am not experiencing any major side effects.
Side Effects of Truvada – 0.5% might have kidney impairment, affecting those of old age, light body weight, and of certain genes. It will also weaken the bones in the long run so the advice was to drink more low fat or skim milk. You should drink more water, and avoid NSAIDs (other drugs)
Side Effects of Stocrin – First few days of consumption, very drowsy feeling (like drunk). 20% might experience skin rash that will not last more than 10 days. 1% might experience severe skin rash. In the long run, there will be a build-up of lipids/grow fat (the horror!).
The total cost of my trip for the medication side was 24370 Baht, slightly more than SGD $1000. My air tickets cost me SGD $200, and my hostel was 390 baht (SGD $16) a night for a bed in a backpacker’s inn. It was located very near the hospital and in a very convenient location.
I would recommend it for anyone who is going to seek treatment on a budget. www.bedbangkok.com
I hope this information would help anyone out there who is hesitating about seeking treatment. This is a viable option that should be considered if you’re concerned with the high costs in SG, or the lack of privacy. Please get treatment as soon as possible, for yourself and for the people around you. (:
TOP 10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD WEAR A CONDOM BEFORE YOU FUCK.
I’m going to be very un-PC, very brash, and slightly pottymouthed in this post. So prudes who can’t take what I’m going to say, well, its your loss, honey. Your health & longevity, not mine.
10. There are mistakes you can live with, like that fugly tramp stamp you thought looked sexy when you got it at 19 (no biggie, laser it off!), but there are mistakes that can live with you. (I assume you aren’t that stupid to get what I’m trying to say)
9. If you don’t trust someone to look after your iPad Mini when you go take a crap, or house-sit for you, or look through contents in your phone, do you expect to trust someone when he says, “I’m clean, can I please fuck u raw, I can’t get hard with condom leh”? DON’T BE A DUMBASS.
8. Because you are a gay man in Singapore, and the general public already has pretty negative views on Teh Gay with regard to HIV. Do you want to reinforce the stereotype & humiliate yourself in the process?
7. Do you want a shotgun wedding with an unplanned bastard child in your giant preggers belly? Of course not, how embarassing would it be, especially if you come from a traditional or religious family? You bling dishonour to famiree!
6. Buying condoms is embarassing? So is going to the DSC Clinic to get the Gonorrhea you caught from the random fuck at Cruise Club last Saturday treated.
5. Because you know that if your “date” truly has feelings and cares for you, he wouldn’t put you at risk just like that OR the emotional torture of not knowing your status and worrying. Time to dump him, honey.
4. Trying new condoms can be a fun activity with your partner. I like Sagami, feels like nothing at all. ;) And it also shows to your partner that you have a good head on your shoulders. Brownie points you know!
3. Condoms are expensive? Have you seen how much I have to pay for my HIV medications every damn month? LOOK HERE. $15 + $35 for a box of condoms and a bottle of good silicone lube vs. plus minus $1000 a month for HIV medications. YOUR CHOICE.
2. You might get infected with HPV. Also known as the Human Papillomavirus (for the dumber ones). Don’t know how it looks like? LOOK HERE. There is no cure for HPV, and let’s say, you have a cheebye as horrible looking as the picture in the link, the only treatment available in Singapore is Liquid Nitrogen cryotherapy, where the nurse will have to freeze burn off each and every wart. And trust me, it FUCKING HURTS.
1. Gone are the days where all of us are going to save our virginity for the wedding night. Get real, everyone’s a whore, one way or another. Why should you wear condoms? Because it gives you the freedom to fuck around until you find the perfect cock to call your happily ever after (MY ONE! DON’T TOUCH!). Having HIV is a very lonely experience, most of us who have unfortunately caught this disease are rejected by other people and potential Mr. Rights. Do you know that feels on our self esteem? We live a lifetime of regret & what-ifs.
You have a bright future ahead of you, and Mr. Right is just around the corner. Preserve yourself & your self worth. Before its much too late. I have neither a bright future nor Mr. Right anymore. Because I didn’t listen. Don’t end up like me.
Not too long ago, my parents even forbade me to place my chopsticks in my mouth if I’m sharing dishes with people. My Dad claimed that he had asked people around him and they told him that you can contract HIV through saliva and sharing food. I believe this is the stigma that HIV positive Singaporeans are facing still. And however hard I tried and how many times I have told him that it is a HIV Myth, it just can’t make him understand. I tell you this sad turn of events because I feel very strongly about this issue, and I really hope things will change for the better.
Bryan is a 33 year old Singaporean male who has been living with HIV for the past three years, having tested positive when he was 30 years of age. Prior to this, Bryan has had taken 3 HIV tests and the results were negative each time. He tested positive by using a Oraquick mouth swab rapid-test kit before having sex with his partner, who had actually planned to have unprotected sex with him.
Bryan adds candidly, “Initially, I was really shocked, dumbfounded for about a few minutes. And the next burning question in my mind was that I wondered if he would still proceed to have sex with me after knowing about my positive result (talk about priorities!). Thankfully, we continued but with protection, obviously.” Later on, Bryan then decided to visit a private clinic to make a proper confirmation with a Western Blot blood test.
A working adult who is financially independent and secure, Bryan does not see the need to disclose his HIV status to his family members. “I have no intention to inform my family and I do not see the point in telling, anyway,” he surmises.
Bryan believes that if there really is a pressing need for the family to know, one needs very sound reason for letting them know. If the reason is to derive much needed support, there are other avenues like friends you can trust and counselling, but if these avenues aren’t present, telling your family is the last resort.
He adds, “On the other hand, you should know your family best. If by telling them about your HIV means you’d incur their wrath and be going to raise hell, and create more problems in the family, then don’t bother. There are already lots of issues to deal with without unnecessary added drama.”
Although Bryan’s situation is not unlike many young HIV+ Singaporeans who have chosen to keep mum about their status, especially to family, he feels blessed to have an understanding boyfriend who wasn’t angry or left him alone to fend for himself, and very thankful his boyfriend didn’t just leave him. Bryan has also told two of his cloaest friends about his situation, one of whom is HIV+ himself, and Bryan seeks his friend’s advice with the nitty gritty of HIV. He adds, “I told my friends because I just needed to tell someone. I do not like the idea of keeping this secret and burden to myself.”
Bryan’s HIV antiretroviral medications are Combivir and Efavirenz, and he has been on them since August 2010. CDC prices for these medications are as such:
Combivir - SGD$166.80
Efavirenz - SGD$200
Bryan decided that he needed the best HIV care possible so he decided not to rely on on generic antiretroviral medication from Thailand. He pays for his bloodwork and doctor visits with his own money or his Public Sector card (PS Card), being a civil servant. But there are limitations however, the PS Card has an annual limit of SGD$350 and obviously, the cumulative cost would be many times over. Thankfully, Bryan is able to utilise his Medisave to pay for his medications. He buys his medications every half year, and SGD$1500 gets deducted each time.
Bryan is a private individual who is very discreet about his HIV, and he does not see the need to talk about it with other people other than his boyfriend and two best friends, so he relies on information on HIV/AIDS he can read and learn from at www.thebody.com.
He has a few words of advice to fellow gay Singaporean men to always play safe. Yes, he understands that unprotected sex does feel good (let’s be honest here) but he advises you to have regular check-ups especially if you are considered high-risk. Bryan is glad he was diagnosed early and now has an undetectable Viral Load and CD4 count of 400+. He adds, “I was really surprised that throughout the years, I’d managed to dodge all the STDs and the first I ever got was the (HIV) jackpot.”
Bryan tries to tell himself that HIV is just like cancer; some people get them and are still living life to the fullest, and that it is not the end of the world. The only hassle Bryan finds is that he finds the daily medication regime a little daunting and candidly adds, “I just hate the thought that I will be on medication for the next 10000 years. And of course I now have to have sex with a condom! Which kinda sucks.”
Jokes aside, Bryan says that whatever the future might hold for one who has recently tested positive to never keep the HIV to yourself, as it is ever so important to talk to someone who understands and alleviate that inner torment, be it with a social worker, or a friend. Bryan finally ends with some important words, “Life will still go on, but now, just be careful and take care of your body since now we have lowered immunity. Right now, I can only pray that a cure will be found during my lifetime. Even though I like the idea of dying young (and beautiful) however, I do not want to go in a terrible and suffering state, that won’t look too good. In the meantime, please take care and play safe, you guys!”