Singapore has hit the headlines this week for a massive leak of personal data relating to people living with HIV.
On Monday, the conservative regions Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a press release confirming the data leak.
It said the data and contact details of 5,400 Singaporeans diagnosed up to 2013 were leaked online. The same details of 8,800 foreigners diagnosed up to 2011 were also leaked. Many had applied to Singapore for visas or work permits.
Unsurprisingly, this has generated great concern among some people living with the virus in the area.
‘This data breach is quite possibly the worst thing that could happen to someone living with HIV in Singapore’ executive director of LGBTI support group Oogachaga, Leow Yangfa, told Gay Star News.
‘He is still only a child – my child – and he’s got this condition’
One mom with a son living with the virus has posted a message of support to Facebook.
‘HIV is only a virus that damages the immune system, it is not a death sentence. He is still only a child – my child – and he’s got this condition,’ said Diana Goh.
‘He needs my support and my encouragement. Those living with HIV need the support and love of the people around them – their friends, and most importantly, their family.
‘The fear of being rejected might stop many from being tested and seeking treatment if needed. This may lead to the further spread of HIV – it’s no small matter. PLHIV [People Living with HIV] – when they get the love of their family, friends and society, they will continue to live happy and healthy lives.
‘Avin is one such example. He had HIV tested positive in 2009. He chose not to tell me, afraid that I would be hurt, or that I would not be able to accept him. Then he had to fight this battle by himself for 3 years.
‘He chose to trust me’
‘In 2012, he finally broke the news to me,’ she goes on to say. ‘Out of expectations, I was so relieved. Despite hearing bad news. In a way – he chose to trust me; to tell me that he has HIV.
‘Parents are the most important people to help and support their children; to help them lead better lives, and get back on track. So we don’t want them to feel alone and ashamed. Everybody wants to be accepted for what they are.
Her son, Avin Tan, went on to publicly disclose his HIV status after telling his mom. He now works as an advocate for sexual health and HIV awareness.
‘I strongly believe that Avin was happier and most relieved after being accepted by family,’ says Diana. ‘He became stronger in mind; and in 2014, he became the face of the disease in Singapore – it was in one of the local papers!
‘Helping more people to accept and understand what PLHIV go through – will help PLHIV to have the courage to stand up.
‘Acceptance – to accept rather than resist. Accepting what has happened will help people be happier and feel more at peace, rather than fighting to change what is out of our control. This will help us to maintain inner peace and happiness. Acceptance saves lives.’
In many countries, people living with HIV continue to face stigma and discrimination about the virus. This can be just as bad within the gay community. Many people with HIV have stories of discriminatory, nasty messages sent over dating apps if they mention their status online. This is despite the fact – if you are on effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load – there is no risk of you passing the virus on to someone else through sex.
GSN has reached out Diana and Avin for further comment.
If you are affected by the HIV data leak in Singapore and need support, please contact Oogachaga on their anonymous, confidential hotline.
The Singapore Ministry of Health has also set up a hotline for people who have information or concerns. The number is: +65 6325 9220.