National HIV Registry leak: Let’s talk about HIV

Former head of the National Public Health Unit (NPHU), Singaporean doctor Ler Teck Siang, is in a lot of trouble with the authorities here. He currently faces a number of drug-related charges, as well as
charges under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

He allegedly failed to “take reasonable care” of the data by “failing to retain possession” of a thumbdrive containing the confidential data of more than 14,000 HIV patients. He had obtained said data from the National HIV Registry.

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A Singaporean doctor at the centre of the HIV information leak is also facing three drug-related charges, including methamphetamine trafficking.

TNP, 1 Feb 2019

Why have a National HIV Registry?

HIV/AIDS is a global pandemic. As of 2016 , approximately 36.7 million people have HIV worldwide with the number of new infections that year being about 1.8 million. This is down from 3.1 million new infections in 2001. Slightly over half the infected population are women and 2.1 million are children. (Source: Wikipedia)

It is therefore important to keep a record of individuals with HIV in order to understand and contain the spread of the virus within our population. The data enables the authorities to take preventive measures when warranted.

What should you do if you come into possession of the leaked registry data?

Report it to the relevant authorities, and ignore it. Basic decency dictates you not share this information on Facebook (duh!).

Common misconceptions about HIV

The risk of transmission is higher in homosexuals

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Globally, the most common mode of HIV transmission is via sexual contacts between people of the opposite sex

Why this misconception?

As of 2014, most HIV transmission in the United States occurred among men who had sex with men (83% of new HIV diagnoses among males aged 13 and older and 67% of total new diagnoses)

The chances of male to female transmission is higher

This is true to some extent, in the context of high-income countries

Male to FemaleFemale to Male
High-income countries0.08%0.04%
Low-income countries0.30%0.38%

Rough sex, and anal sex, further increase the risk of transmission.

Skin contact can transmit HIV

This is untrue, and should be common knowledge in 2019. There is the risk of transmission if there’s breakage in the skin and exchange of bodily fluids, but the chances are very low.

Should the Government discriminate against HIV-positive foreigners coming here to work?

In April 2015, the ban against HIV-positive foreigners travelling to Singapore was lifted, reflecting changes in immigration policies in other first-world countries. However, they are still not allowed to work here.

MOH asserts that “… the public health risk posed by long-stayers is not insignificant, hence the restriction on long-term visits has been retained.” (ST, Aug 2015)

Some would say that this is unnecessarily discriminatory. What do you think?

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