Singapore Government Proposes Measure To Address Spread of HIV Through Unsafe Sex
Officials in Singapore recently proposed a bill that would make it a crime for people who engage in unsafe sex practices -- and thus have "reason to believe" that they might be HIV-positive -- to have sex without informing their partners of the risks, Bloomberg reports. According to Bloomberg, the bill was introduced to address the spread of HIV through activities such as commercial sex work, which the government says has contributed to a substantial increase in the number of HIV cases reported in Singapore during the past decade. Singapore recorded about one new HIV case per every 10,000 people in 2006, compared with fewer than 0.5 cases per 10,000 people in 1996.
According to the government, the bill also would encourage people to seek HIV testing and avoid risky behavior. Those who violate the measure could be punished even if they test negative for HIV, Bloomberg reports. Violators could face as much as 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Punishment for those who know they are HIV-positive and decline to tell their partners -- which currently is a crime under a 1992 law -- would be increased to the same level. No one has been prosecuted under the 1992 law. The proposed law's enforcement would depend on whether the "aggrieved" partner files a complaint and prosecutors can prove that the defendant has a history of risky sexual behavior, Bloomberg reports. The legislation could be considered by parliament this month.
"We're trying to find a way essentially to ask [people] to be responsible for their own actions," Koh Peng Keng, senior director of operations at the Ministry of Health, said. "There is a greater impetus to get more people to come forward for testing," he said, adding, "It's never the intention to go on a witch hunt. It's going to help in public education." Koh also said the government plans to increase annual spending on HIV/AIDS prevention to eight million Singapore dollars, or about $5.6 million, during the next three years.
United Nations agencies and HIV/AIDS advocates oppose Singapore's proposed measure, Bloomberg reports. "Stigma and discrimination are major drivers of the HIV epidemic," Roy Chan, president of the Singapore advocacy group Action for AIDS, said in written comments on the legislation. Seema Paul, chief policy coordinator for UNAIDS, said the proposed bill would force people to get HIV tests, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and violence if others learned they were HIV-positive. "We have consistently advocated that HIV testing should be voluntary,' Paul said in an e-mail. Stuart Koe -- CEO of the media company Fridae, which operates a Web site for men who have sex with men -- said that there will be "a lot of unexpected negative effects" from the bill (Bennett, Bloomberg, 2/12).