Media Statement on behalf of the President, Action for AIDS, Singapore responding to the Health Minister’s Parliamentary Statement on HIV Data Leak
We note the Minister for Health’s statement to Parliament on the recent data leak from the HIV registry. Ref: https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/statement-by-minister-(health)-mr-gan-kim-yong-on-the-unauthorised-possession-and-disclosure-of-information-from-hiv-registry
Action for AIDS is heartened by the Minister’s call to destigmatize HIV and to protect people living with HIV (PLHIV) from discrimination in accessing healthcare, stable employment and acceptance in society.
Minister Gan noted that HIV treatment has improved over the years. We would like to add and emphasise that early HIV treatment does not just delay disease progression, it can actually prevent AIDS from ever developing. PLHIV on effective treatment and medical follow-up now expect to live as long as persons without HIV infection.
Just as important is the fact that PLHIV who are on treatment with undetectable HIV viral loads are not infectious to their sexual partners. These facts have been proven in several large-scale clinical studies and has been endorsed by numerous top medical and scientific agencies worldwide. The slogan U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) has been adopted by numerous national public health agencies in order to destigmatize HIV infection and encourage HIV testing and linkage to care. This is a position that AfA strongly supports and advocates in our education and outreach work and we urge all other agencies to do the same. (Ref: http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2018/july/undetectable-untransmittable)
Minister Gan has said that “HIV remains a very serious infectious disease”. We would like to say that this is only the case if the infection remains undiagnosed and untreated. In order to regain the confidence of persons at risk and to encourage early testing and treatment, we cannot continue to work in ways that have been marginally effective. A long hard review of the entire HIV programme is necessary and opportune, with special attention to structural changes needed if we are to join the ranks of cities that have resolved to end HIV infection by 2030.
Verbal calls to destigmatize HIV infection and PLHIV must be followed-up with real action. Measures need to be put in place to protect PLHIV, to progress from mere guidelines to actual laws with teeth and to ensure that they have access to affordable medical care, education, jobs, health and life insurance. All these are needed for every person to lead full, productive and rewarding lives. We must review our laws and policies that perpetuate HIV stigma and discrimination, we refer to the opinion piece in the Straits Times on 1 February 2019 for specific examples (https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/time-for-change-to-reduce-stigma).
Last but not least we urge anyone who comes across information from the HIV data leak to refrain from sharing the information and to report the source of that information to the police or the Ministry of Health immediately.
We also urge the Government to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, any person who participates in spreading such information.
Prof Roy Chan
Action for AIDS Singapore