Singapore Parliament Passes Amended HIV Act

The amended version of the Infectious Diseases Bill was passed by members of the Singapore Parliament on April 22, 2008, after being read by Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan for the second time. The amendment now makes it an offense for any HIV-positive person to have sex-regardless of whether he knows of his status-as long as he has reason to believe he has been exposed to the risk of contracting the virus.

However, he is not liable if he has informed his partner, who voluntarily agreed to the risk, or if he practices safe sex or tested negative before the sexual act. The Bill also puts liability over an HIV-positive person who has threatened the welfare of health care workers.

The amended Act also expands the power of the Health Ministry to enforce social distancing measures, allowing selected or even blanket prohibition of gatherings or public entertainment or closure of premises.

The Infectious Diseases Bill, which as announced last year, generated strong feelings due to the perceived persecution against people living with HIV. Khaw said that it was not their intention. "We will only act if there is a complaint from an aggrieved victim and only after a thorough investigation," he added. The Act was passed as Singapore registered 422 newly-diagnosed HIV cases last year, an increase from 357 in 2006.

Questions raised by members of parliament included which types of people would have "reason to believe" they are practicing high-risk behavior, which Khaw replied as those who has unprotected sex with prostitutes, other men, or multiple partners; as well as one who shares injection needles with other drug addicts. Khaw also adds that a "promiscuous" person who practices safe sex by using condoms in every sexual intercourse is not considered a high risk.

The Health Ministry is setting aside 10 million Singapore dollars (US$7,473,280) over the next two years for non-government organizations and health care institutions to be used for treatment and support for people living with HIV.

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