HIV law is only part of the equation

First Published  – 17 Oct 2007

Letter from KAREN TAN

Director, Corporate Communications Ministry of Health

MR GOH Kian Huat supported the proposed legislative amendment to require those with high-risk sexual behaviour to do regular HIV testing, inform their sexual partners and/or use condoms. But he felt that it would be difficult to enforce the new law (“How will authorities know?” Oct 3).

Indeed, enforcement will be complex and we welcome more feedback on the proposed law.

The fact remains that we live in a HIVprevalent region and we should protect Singaporeans against infection.

Besides public education, we need to get those who engage in high-risk sexual conduct to be more responsible in protecting their sexual partners.

This is the intent of the proposed law. It is not to criminalise HIV-infected individuals, but to deter irresponsible sexual conduct.

Any investigation will be carried out sensitively, but firmly to ascertain the facts of a reported breach.

Legal action will only be pursued if an offence is borne out by the facts.

But legislation by itself is inadequate to tackle the problem of HIV/Aids. Public education and prevention must be the mainstay.

We will intensify our outreach efforts to let people know how their conduct may put them at risk of HIV infection, and how they can better protect themselves and their sexual partners.

In Response To:

How will authorities know?

-Proposed HIV legislation will only be as effective as it can be enforced

Letter from GOH KIAN HUAT

I REFER to the report, “Know or don’t know, it’s still illegal” (Sept 29-30).

Until a cure is found, a person infected with the HIV virus has effectively been given a death sentence. He or she has the potential to kill others by passing the virus on to them. And if the victim dies as a result, a “murder” has been committed.

Currently, a person who knows that he or she is HIV-positive but does not inform their partner of their condition before they have sex would have committed an offence. I support the proposed amendment to make it an offence for an HIV-positive person to have sex with another without telling him or her of the risk — even if the infected person has no idea that he or she carries the virus.

However, it will be very difficult to enforce this new legislation. How effective it will be as a deterrent will depend on how well it can be enforced.

First, if a patient diagnosed to be HIV-positive does not complain about the partner, will the Ministry of Health (MOH) look into the case to establish whether the partner had informed the patient of the risk involved before sex, and take the offender to task?

Second, all newly-diagnosed HIV cases are required to be reported to the MOH. Will the ministry look into all these cases to confirm whether the offence for failing to inform partners of the risk has been committed under the new amendment Bill and charge the offenders in court?

Third, if the victims are unable to provide details of their partner( s) for investigation — especially for commercial sex cases or those with multiple partners, how will the offenders be brought to justice? How will the case proceed if the victims are unwilling to testify against their spouses or partners?

Therefore, while the maximum penalty for such offences may be raised from a $10,000 fine and two years’ jail to a $50,000 fine and 10 years’ jail, its effectiveness will depend on how the authorities can overcome the enforcement issues.