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HIV Debacle is the Result of the PAP’s Desire to Keep Tabs on its Citizens

There are lots of questions to be answered in the latest example of the PAP Government’s mismanagement and incompetence to come to light.

Leaving aside the question of why it was necessary to have a registry of those infected with HIV in the first place, why did the head of the Ministry of Health’s National Public Health Unit have seemingly uncontrolled access to this data such that he or his American fraudster partner were able to download it and take it away with them. How was it possible for such confidential information to be downloaded to a thumbnail drive so easily and without seeking authorisation from a higher authority? MOH has announced that since 2017, in typical shut-the-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted fashion, the use of unauthorised personal storage devices on its computers has been disabled. But why was it ever allowed in the first place, particularly after in the US Edward Snowden, a Russian or Chinese spy, had shown how easy it was to download vital security information on to a thumb drive and steal it?

Also MOH and the SPF were aware of the data breach since at least May 2016 when Ler’s and Brochez’s properties were searched. Why were steps not taken while Brochez was in jail and before he was released and deported to the US to make sure that no copies of the data were still in his possession?

MOH chose not to share this information with anyone on the database. Even if the leak was not made public, and arguably there was a strong public interest in doing so, the Permanent Secretary Chan Heng Kee (is he related to former Singapore Ambassador to the US Chan Heng Chee?) should have contacted everyone on the list at that stage to warn them about the theft. He states that “MOH did not make it public earlier that Brochez had the data because the most important consideration was whether it is in the people’s interest and their well-being. But a more likely reason is that MOH did not want people to become aware of the confidential information it was holding and the easy access its employees had to the data with the attendant possibilities for blackmail in a country where homosexuality is criminalized and there is still widespread ignorance about HIV and the risks of transmission and stigma against those infected.

In another article on state media, a Dr Tan questions the need for a registry at all. In the 1980s when there was no known cure for HIV a registry might have been necessary but now it is no different from other chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. It is actually easier to manage than the latter, requiring just one pill a day. To quote from his comments:

“Having an HIV registry is akin to the modern version of a leper colony, only worse. Because people living with HIV are of no danger to anyone around them when they are undergoing treatment,” 

“This fear of being forever on a list and under the watch of a higher authority also makes some people afraid or unwilling to come forward for HIV testing. This has serious public health implications as people who are not diagnosed with unknowingly continue to spread the disease,” 

Obviously this fear is compounded by the fact that Singapore criminalizes homosexuality and has no anti-discrimination laws. Several of the individuals whose details have been leaked say they are fearful that they may lose their jobs or that their family will find out. Dr Tan says that in 2017, 41% of those diagnosed with HIV were in the late stage when presumably it had progressed to full-blown AIDS. This is tragic as they will now probably have their lifetimes significantly reduced by what would have been an easily treatable disease if caught in the early stages.

We need to abolish or anonymise the registry and abolish 377A, even though this will inevitably lead to howls of protest from both fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. Apart from other considerations, continuing to criminalise homosexuals means that people are likely not to give true answers on questionnaires given to blood donors as they would be admitting to a crime. The registry is symptomatic of the PAP’s desire to keep tabs on its citizens and control them. It is part of the same mentality that puts race on our ID cards. Part of the reason is to instill fear that Big Brother is watching you. We need a Freedom of Information Act, modelled on those in the US and the UK, which, among other things, gives citizens the right to request that the Government provide them with details of all the data it holds on them and to challenge the data if false.

We also need to take disciplinary action against those responsible, not just Dr Ler but also all the way up to the Perm Sec Chan Heng Kee for allowing such lax security to be in place. As long as those drawing multi-million dollar salaries are insulated from any adverse consequences for their incompetence these failures will keep happening.

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