ST: Hospitalised men to be asked to volunteer for Aids test (Sept 19)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sep 19, 2007

Hospitalised men to be asked to volunteer for Aids test
Law change will also ensure those who transmit HIV
cannot plead ignorance
By Judith Tan

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

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

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

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

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'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.