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Hospitalised men to be asked to volunteer for Aids test (The Straits Times [Singapore])
19 Sep, 2007

Law change will also ensure those who transmit HIV cannot plead ignorance

ALL men admitted to hospitals from later this year will be asked to take a voluntary Aids test, widening efforts to stop the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from spreading here.

The move follows similar testing already in place for pregnant mothers and at-risk groups such as health-care workers.

At the same time, the laws will be tweaked to ensure that those responsible for transmission are dealt with.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that a person who did not know he was HIV-positive would not escape blame. The Infectious Diseases Act would soon be amended to 'clarify that ignorance of one's HIV status will not be a defence for those who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour'.

It is currently an offence for someone who is HIV-positive to have sex without informing his sexual partner of his HIV status.

HIV testing would not be compulsory, or be taken nationwide, said Mr Khaw in Parliament yesterday.

'For population-wide screening, there's of course a trade-off that we have to make because there's a cost to screening. And also you don't want to cause unnecessary inconvenience to the vast majority,' he told the House.

Mr Khaw added that since no country has conducted compulsory screening, Singapore has to consider 'if we want to be ahead of the curve, especially when our prevalence is not as high as in the rest of the world'.

In the first eight months of this year, 278 Singaporeans were newly diagnosed with HIV, bringing the total number of known HIV-infected cases to 3,338.

The prevalence of known HIV cases among those aged 15 and above stood at 0.07 per cent, up from 0.02 per cent 10 years ago, he said.

He was responding to Dr Lim Wee Kiak, an MP for Sembawang GRC, who wanted to know what the Ministry of Health (MOH) is doing in the light of a recent report that one in 350 public hospital patients was infected with HIV, which causes Aids.

Given that 4,500 inpatients are treated in public hospitals daily, this meant that 12 unknown HIV patients could be coming into close contact with health-care workers every day.

'The risk of accidental transmission is not trivial,' he said.

Mr Khaw explained that the voluntary screening is in line with recommendations made by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

They are requiring healthcare workers such as surgeons who are exposed to the patient's open tissues or blood directly to know their HIV status, and for adult patients to be offered HIV screening.

He added that the public hospitals such as Changi General Hospital are progressively implementing the CDC recommendations.

Mr Khaw said Singapore looked to the US and other countries 'because their numbers are higher and they have been studying this problem for a longer period'.

He referred to a recent trip to Sydney, led by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Balaji Sadasivan.

One key learning point was that the stakeholders such as the government, health-care groups and Aids organisations and patients must work closely to help those at risk to take personal responsibility to reduce risky behaviours, and go for regular testing.

Speaking to The Straits Times, gay media company Fridae.com's chief executive officer Stuart Koe lauded the first steps to a better working relationship between the ministry and the groups.

'We are currently at the stage where we can sit with MOH and map out a strategy in the fight against HIV,' said Dr Koe, who was among the representatives from three non-governmental organisations involved in HIV prevention who accompanied Dr Sadasivan on his trip.

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