A specialised clinic for each group

Published: August 4, 2011

SINGAPORE: When it comes to public sexual health services, a majority of patients would prefer to have specialised clinics for individual groups such as youths and homosexuals, according to the findings of the first study on the subject here.

The study also raised concerns about young people below 20 becoming sexually active at a younger age and men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM), citing the need for sexual health prevention and intervention programmes specifically tailored for them.

The Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control (DSC) Clinic – which conducted the study two years ago – has since set up a Men’s Clinic on its premises, seeing between 30 and 40 patients every month.

The clinic, meant for MSM, has only male staff to make for a less intimidating environment for the patients.

The setting up of the clinic in January is in line with the study’s results, which showed that more than 70 per cent of the 130 MSMs respondents felt the need to have a clinic to cater to their needs.

As for having other dedicated clinics, 61 per cent of all 1,000 respondents said that it was essential to have a clinic catering to young patients.

While setting up these specific services could encourage the targeted groups to come forward for screening and treatment, such moves may also be viewed by some quarters as sending out the wrong signals to society.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan noted that some conservative groups would argue that abstinence is the best prevention but the "truth of the matter is that there are these alternative lifestyles in the community".

Citing past findings that homosexuals tend to be at a higher risk of contracting Aids, she said: "Having a dedicated clinic would reach out to them and promote control … to turn a blind eye would, in fact, result in unwanted consequences."

While such a service could be beneficial, the challenge lies in getting a positive take-up rate, added Associate Professor Straughan.

As for youths, the Singapore Children’s Society’s Dr Carol Balhetchet pointed out that information about sex is already widely available.

Dr Balhetchet, its director of youth services, said that reaching out to youths would be best left to other youths "who have gone through the hard way" as adults will be deemed as judgmental.

However, she added, a supportive family would strongly encourage youth to stay out of trouble.

The DSC Clinic study, Patients’ Perception of Health Services for Sexually Transmitted Infections in Singapore, was published in the July edition of the Singapore Medical Journal.

Led by Dr Gavin Ong from the DSC Clinic, the study collected 1,000 individual responses from patients over a four-week period in May 2009.

Dr Ong told Today that the findings were in line with international studies and anecdotal observations, where confidentiality and competency of healthcare workers were key concerns of patients.

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