Singapore

Groups say HIV info leak may prevent people from getting tested

Advocacy groups slam HIV registry information leak, say it could be psychologically damaging to HIV-positive individuals

Advocacy groups have condemned the HIV registry information leak, describing it as a violation of the privacy of those living with the disease.

The worry is the incident could have a damaging psychological effect on those with the human immunodeficiency virus and create more difficulties in getting people tested and treated.

Mr Leow Yangfa, 44, executive director of Oogachaga, a non-profit organisation that works with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer and gender-diverse (LGBTQ+) community, told The New Paper that the immediate emotional impact of the leak will also be huge.

"In particular, LGBTQ+ persons living with HIV who have not disclosed their HIV status to those around them, including family members, employers, and friends, or are still closeted about their sexual orientation are most vulnerable," he said.

"This latest leak will contribute to an additional layer of fear - the fear of their HIV status being exposed to others without their consent, when they have been trying so hard to keep it protected."

The Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed yesterday that confidential information of 14,200 HIV-positive individuals, including their names and medical information, were stolen and leaked online by Mikhy Farrera Brochez.

The American, who was jailed in 2017 for fraud and drug-related offences and for lying about his HIV status, was the boyfriend of Singaporean doctor Ler Teck Siang, who has been charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for failing to take reasonable care of confidential information regarding HIV-positive patients.

Citing the cyber attack on SingHealth's patient database last June, Mr Leow said the latest incident may further discourage LGBTQ+ Singaporeans from getting tested for HIV and seeking treatment locally.

He said: "Many may no longer feel safe in their interactions with the healthcare system, as they will understandably feel extreme disappointment, distress, pain, betrayal and even anger.

"This is extremely serious. Confidentiality of client information - including identity and any data - is a key ethical principle for many of our care-giving professions."

Professor Roy Chan, president of Action for Aids, said the leak could damage the lives of those with HIV and even that of their loved ones.

He added: "We stand with all whose private information may have been accessed and violated.

"This is a criminal act that should be condemned and answered in the most severe terms possible."

The police said that it is an offence under the OSA to be in possession of, communicate or use any of the confidential data that may have been disclosed.

It is also an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act to disclose any information that might identify a person with HIV or Aids, unless consent is given or except in certain circumstances, such as a court order.

Lawyer Fadli Fawzi of IRB Law said those who share the leaked data may also open themselves up to civil lawsuits.

Both Prof Chan and Mr Leow urged those affected by the leak to first seek help from their doctors, medical workers and counsellors.

Mr Leow said Oogachaga will offer support and its counselling services, which are confidential, anonymous and accessible via hotline, e-mail and WhatsApp, to all who need it.

Prof Chan also encouraged those with information or with any concerns to contact the MOH hotline at 6325-9220.

COURT & CRIME