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Monday, June 27, 2005 

The True Story of Dr Balaji’s Fight against HIV
His true purpose of stating the “gay & unnamed epidemiologist” hypothesis…

6 months ago, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communication and the Arts & Health, raised a storm amongst local community on the HIV and gays comments.

“Currently, 90% of these newly diagnosed patients are males, with one-third being gays. We had a low prevalence rate of HIV in the past, even in the gay community. We do not know the reasons for the sharp increase of HIV in the gay community. An epidemiologist has suggested that this may be linked to the annual predominantly gay party in Sentosa - the Nation Party - which allowed gays from high prevalence societies to fraternise with local gay men, seeding the infection in the local community. However, this is a hypothesis and more research needs to done by the experts.”

Of his 3,071 words parliamentary speech, the media only chose these 101 words to sensationalize their story. In the full context of his parliamentary speech, he touched on the holistic approach in dealing with HIV amongst heterosexual men, pregnant women, making HIV test kits readily available (to avoid any weird stare if you buy one), the need to de-stigmatize AIDS patients and prevent any discrimination. He also touched on having public education, welfare channels to look after the emotion needs of patients and the growing need for medical volunteers.

OBVIOUSLY, the media didn’t cover these issues but just concentrate on the 101 words which will sell more newspapers. But wait! Isn’t him the Senior Minister of State for the ministry in charge of media aka MICA? Some Singaporeans always have gloomy thoughts on how Singapore Media is being controlled by the government and all the conspiracy theories. From this case, apparently these rumours are unfounded. He didn’t have control over the media. Journalists like Tan Hui Leng from TODAY papers still happily quote that “Dr Balaji BLAMED the Nation Party as the CAUSE of high HIV cases among gays”. Apparently, this journalist has difficulties in using appropriate words and doesn’t know parliamentary reports existed! Suggested=blamed? Hypothesis=caused?

But ever wondered why Dr Balaji raised the issue on HIV, gays and especially “unknown epidemiologist and hypothesis”? He is such an irresponsible and discriminating Minister as suggested by most online blogs and “liberalists”? These people failed to see his purpose behind the whole saga. In fact, almost everybody missed the point he was driving at when he mentioned the infamous hypothesis. Allow me to decipher his message to you.

1) Why he said, “However, this is a hypothesis and more research needs to done by the experts”?

First he raised the facts and figures of the growing threat of HIV that exceeded the 300th HIV patients mark. Then he said that this is only a hypothesis and that there are many undisclosed cases. His rational for saying that is let the parliament MPs and public see that his hands are tied by the statutes if he wishes to find out exactly how many HIV cases are there. ie: “Okay, you say this is just a hypothesis and no real numbers to back my case, fine. I’ll go get the numbers but the present law prohibits me to. Thus this will forever remain as a hypothesis if we don’t amend the law and will run the risk of HIV epidemic.” Present statute does not allow him to do that as it is considered an invasion of privacy. At the same time, being a Minister of the parliament, proposing a law as controversial as “invasion of privacy”, will only be opposed by the Ministers and the MPs. But if he cannot to that, more women will be at risk by irresponsible HIV-carrying husbands (see the later part of his speech, which is twice longer than his “gay” part).

2) What is Dr Balaji’s background?

Traditionally, no Health Ministers dare to raise this taboo subject in fear of being unpopular. Dr Balaji raised it. Actually, his actions are far more intelligent than most people think. Before entering politics, he was the top neurosurgeon in Singapore and the only one that is recognized by the USA and Australian neuroscience boards. As full neurosurgeon in Singapore, he handles only the most serious of brain surgeries and has a 100% success rate in operations (11 out of 11 serious brain surgeries). When he was in Michigan, he was the neurosurgeon who extracts brain tissues (which has the most concentration of HIV virus) of HIV patients. Out of leisure, he also has a law degree. Unknown to many, he was a very successful entrepreneur as well. He had a few companies that made medical surgery machines and based on the global positioning it will help the surgeon to make the incisions. Just when the company was about to take off and earn him millions in profit, he sold all businesses and became a Minister (as required by law). The pay he receives as a Minister is far less than what he earns as a neurosurgeon and director of the companies.

3) What risk his political career at such a taboo subject?

3 months after he announced that AIDS could be an epidemic in Singapore, United States declared that they have more than 1 million HIV positive people. People, who criticize Dr Balaji’s so-called discrimination against gays and AIDS victims, never met a HIV victim in their lives. Dr Balaji has met with countless of them in USA when he was the neurologist trying to save their lives. He knows the pain of the virus; he knows the trauma when they first got the virus, and he knows the impact of have the woman infected by her husband without her knowledge. All his HIV patients die one by one a slow and painful death. The only thing he could do is to prevent it from happening to Singaporeans.

Sounds too dramatized and noble? People who know Dr Balaji will tell you otherwise. He is a true man with compassion and a heart of gold. I’ve seen him going beyond his duties to helping a family in poverty. And all he said was that, we should help them to the best of our abilities.

He said, privately, that the press can misquote him, artistes can make fun of him, gays can hate him, but at the end of the day, he was trying to save their lives and lives of Singaporeans against a disease that is certain to cause a slow and painful death.

On the political aspect, critics might say that any publicity (whether positive or negative) is good publicity. Look at (former Minister of State who resigned 2 months ago) Cedric Foo’s lack of publicity and you might wonder what he is doing at his highly paid job. He might be loaded with work but the ordinary man on the streets wouldn’t know without the media publicity.

By taking such a strong moral stand against the HIV issue, it is either the cabinet is with him or against him. By PAP’s stand, they have to be with him and his policy in line with the party’s “clean and white” conservative stand. Calculated risk? I think so but I also think he did it because it is the right thing to do. A leader to the right thing; whereas a manager do things right.

Bottomline:
1) Media misquoted his parliament speech
2) Looking beyond what he did and said, it was to bring the alarming awareness to those at risk and not to discriminate them
3) It was a deliberate and smart political message behind the “hypothesis” statement to demonstrate that he needs to have legislative authority to better reach out to those at risk. He already presented his strategy to maintain privacy while saving other lives. So there are no issues of discrimination.
4) Gays was only a small focus of his speech but overplayed by the media.
5) He was accepting of gays and actually has a dialogue session with them (I think at Four Seasons Hotel).
6) Many forgot that the last AIDS epidemic in USA wiped out 90% of the gays population.
7) He repeated stressed the AIDS is not a gay problem but a human problem.
8) Blogs and online websites only selective read his speeches
9) Have these critics met any AIDS victim? Does any issues of “so-called discrimination” (which there isn’t in the first place) supersedes human lives of which some are innocent spouses?
10) This is not a bias interpretation of Dr Balaji, but everyone is entitled to his/her own opinions. So thou shall not judge or be judged! You judge! haha…
Next Week: Decision Behind PM Lee Hsien Loong's Visit to Taiwan

Didn't know Dr Balaji is so smart. Where did u get the info from? care to provide a link?

Anyway, but u have to agree that giving that statement is really not politically wise, and thus not a very good move for a new minister. As u say media and ppl tend to play it up.

Actually, you wouldn't be able to find this anyway online. It is based on personal contact with him. Very nice & intelligent guy.

But took a bold and risky move which might or might not be paid off. Time will tell...

I remain unconvinced. But I agree that the media is terrible at reporting news about AIDS. Come to my blog and poke through the archives and you will see my commentary about journalist Theresa Tan's articles.

Are you saying that a minister to be seen working must be in the media limelight whereas Cedric Foo who shun media is not working for the people at all.

Are you sure that our ministers dare to take on hard issues. See this blog at sgpvictimise.blogspot.com

Hi Anonymous

I wonder where you got the impression from that I say that ministers must seen working under the media limelight but I certainly never implied or meant that in my articles. Perhaps the problems lies in my brand of English or your comprehension of it (no offence!).

No offense once again, the site you referred me represents quite a deviated egalitarian viewpoint which any political science novice can see why such issues are dealt with in that manner. Maybe, just maybe there are as much if not more biasness in his blog, any more than mine. Simply, why have rules when everyone can go MPS to bend them? Having said that, just treat my blog as one that talks nonsense and made all Minister seems like saints! :P

Cheers!
T

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We need more good guys like Br. Balaji.
Right now, he is not in MOH
Strange!
He's not even promoted to be a Minister
Looks like they want him to fade into oblivion
sigh!

Do support this newly set up forum for HIV positives in Singapore.

www.positiveliving.sg

You have really great taste on catch article titles, even when you are not interested in this topic you push to read it

As the admin of this site is working, no hesitation
very quickly it will be well-known, due to its feature contents.



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I remain unconvinced. But I agree that the media is terrible at reporting news about AIDS....

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