From The Straits Times    |

Credit: Clement Goh

Tucked away in a quiet mall in Tanjong Pagar is DTAP Express, a largely nondescript clinic obscured from prying eyes by a frosted glass door. There’s no flashy signage or even directions to its location in the rather maze-like alleys within the building itself. Inside is Singapore’s first doctor-less clinic that promises ultimate discretion for sexual health tests thanks to streamlined self-testing procedures.

It’s the ideal setup for sexually active individuals who want to get tested alone or with their partners without the hassle of waiting in line at more public institutions. Here, confidentiality is guaranteed. (Anonymous HIV testing is available at their other outlet at Robertson Quay.)

Appointment-only visits ensure there are no accidental bumping into familiar faces. Tests can be done DIY via swabbing, or if required, clinical assistants are on hand to help. The entire process for the HIV test took me less than 15 minutes and felt strangely casual. My results arrived in my email a few hours later.

Photo: DTAP Express

Unlike public sexual health clinics that are obligated to report a patient who tests positive for HIV, opting for anonymous HIV testing at DTAP Express keeps the information confidential and communicates any follow-up instructions via email or a teleconsult.

Advocating for sexual health

In a society where sexual diseases and practices still raise eyebrows, services such as those offered by DTAP Express encourage personal responsibility and can help normalise regular sexual health testing.

DTAP Clinics was founded in 2005 years ago by three private practitioners focusing on sexual health for both men and women. Only one of the original founding members remains involved with DTAP — Dr Alan Tan, who has both clinical and managerial experience in the medical and pharmaceutical industry.

Dr Alan Tan. (Photo: Clement Goh)

Explaining his motivation for creating DTAP, he said, “I remember when I was young, there would be a ‘renowned’ general practitioner for each ailment that you can think of, like acne, stomach problems. Going to a specialist was not a financially friendly option back then. I felt that I wanted to bridge the gap between primary and secondary care — for a specific area.”

Shortly after its conception, DTAP took to the forefront of the HIV infection boom, where cases soared to the hundreds. In response, the Ministry of Health (MOH) expanded anonymous HIV testing sites nationwide. “We were one of the first clinics to be appointed as one of the anonymous HIV test sites in Singapore,” he added.

The idea of a doctorless clinic was inspired by a similar clinic in London supported by the National Health Service (NHS), where “patients could collect their own specimens via swabs”. After a study trip, DTAP opened its own version locally in 2020 — DTAP Express.

Since then, their services have broadened to include general health, hormonal and metabolic, and nutritional screenings. Many of their clients range between the ages of 25 to 45, who come informed and educated on the services they require.

Inclusivity for all

Photo: Unsplash, Charles Deluvio

While launching DTAP Express hasn’t been without its challenges — opening at the height of COVID-19 meant the population was in general less sexually active resulting in a lesser demand for sexual health tests — having a doctorless outlet has proven to be beneficial.

Initial concerns about the outlet cannibalising businesses from regular DTAP clinics were quickly put to rest. Having a separate clinic with a contactless approach for more “straightforward medical cases” has allowed them to assign their resources to complex cases better.

To assure patients that they will get full confidentiality and sensitivity, DTAP relies on a work culture that’s judgement-free regardless of “sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, sexual education or awareness, and medical condition”.

They enlist the help of not-for-profit organisations such as Oogachaga to equip clinical assistants with ways to maintain an inclusive and professional approach in dealing with patients. When asked if the clientele leaned towards more male or female, I was gently reminded that while no one gender frequented DTAP Express more, there are also transgender patients who utilise their services.

Going to a specialist was not a financially friendly option back then. I wanted to bridge the gap between primary and secondary care — for a specific area.DR ALAN TAN, ONE OF DTAP CLINICS’ FOUNDERS

Education is key

DTAP Express’ success so far is heartening, indicating a slow shift in mindsets regarding sexual health, but the road is still long ahead. A large portion of DTAP’s patients are non-Singaporean, reflecting the lack of accessibility and education on the issue.

Though making changes to the curriculum on sex education might be out of reach, Tan shares that DTAP continues to be involved in furthering the nation’s awareness of sexual health.

Photo: DTAP Express

Doctors from the group work with MOH and the National HIV Prevention Taskforce to “produce guidelines and eliminate HIV transmission in Singapore”. They also contribute to Pink Dot (an LGBTQ+ non-profit movement), web campaigns, and publish articles on the DTAP website.

Looking towards the future, Tan even has plans to improve accessibility in the region with another project in the pipeline as part of his tireless efforts to push for a higher level of awareness and education on the matter.

This article was originally published in The Peak.