HIV-positive man who avoided taking test, possibly infecting others, gets jail

HIV-positive man who avoided taking test, possibly infecting others, gets jail

A technician extracts blood from a patient for an HIV test
A technician extracts blood from a patient for an HIV test at the specialised Condesa Clinic in Mexico City. (AFP/ALFREDO ESTRELLA)

SINGAPORE: An HIV-positive man who had casual sex frequently with other men was on Thursday (Sep 5) sentenced to three-and-a-half years' jail, after pleading guilty to two charges under the Infectious Diseases Act as well as three drug-related charges.

The 35-year-old Malaysian started engaging in sexual activity with men in Singapore in 2003, the court heard. 

Although he suspected that he could have been exposed to HIV or infected with it, he decided not to get tested after 2008, as he was afraid of losing his permanent residency status in Singapore if he tested positive for HIV.

According to the person who reported him to the Ministry of Health (MOH), at least six other men who had sex with him were later diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus, which could lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The man cannot be named due to gag orders issued by the court. He was a freelance hairdresser and fashion designer at the time of the offences.

ACCUSED WAS CONTACTED BY HEALTH AUTHORITIES SEVERAL TIMES 

In 2010, the accused had sex with a man who later tested positive for HIV and informed him about it.

MOH's National Public Health Unit (NPHU) also contacted the accused, telling him he was a sexual contact of an HIV-positive person and advised him to go for testing.

The man lied to NPHU that he gets tested regularly for the virus and had been found negative in the latest test.

NPHU contacted the accused at least three times in the next five years, informing him each time that he had been named as a sexual contact of someone who had tested positive for HIV.

Despite this, the man did not go for any HIV tests, even though he knew that he had been exposed to a significant risk of contracting the virus.

In July 2013, the accused had unprotected sex with a man he met on social networking application Grindr, without telling him about the risk of contracting AIDS or HIV infection from him.

They had sex on two other occasions. After that, the other man developed a fever and was later diagnosed with HIV infection.

According to this man, the accused was the first person he had had sex with after testing negative for HIV in 2011.

When NPHU again asked the accused to be tested for the virus, he lied that he had tested negative for it.

He continued in his ways, meeting another man for sex in February 2014. This man asked if he was HIV positive, and the accused did not answer him, instead saying that he would get tested.

The accused's sex partner was diagnosed with HIV infection in August 2014. He had last tested negative in March that year, and the accused was the last person he had sex with before his diagnosis.

When the sex partner told the accused about his infection and asked if he was HIV positive as well, the accused did not answer him and told him again that he would go for a test.

ACCUSED AVOIDED NPHU

NPHU contacted the accused in January 2015 telling him that he posed a risk to others through his unprotected sexual activities, but the accused said he was busy with work and refused to answer NPHU when it called him about five times.

An informant told MOH's Surveillance and Enforcement Branch on Mar 18, 2016 that the accused had had sex with up to six partners who were diagnosed with HIV after sex with him.

The accused tested positive for HIV on Feb 13, 2017, after MOH ordered him to take the test. 

More than a year after this, the accused was arrested for drug offences. He had smoked methamphetamine obtained from a drug dealer, saying he abused the drug to stay awake for longer hours. 

He was nabbed again in April this year and admitted to smoking meth or Ice on about five occasions in March.

ACCUSED WAS "WILFULLY BLIND": PROSECUTION

The prosecution asked for a sentence of 45 months' jail, saying there were multiple victims and that some of the drug offences took place while the accused was on bail.

"The accused is not young," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Ho Lian-Yi. "He's in his 30s ... he has his own dealer, he goes to Orchard to specifically buy drugs for his own consumption."

He had chosen to be "wilfully blind" to the possibility of having HIV infection and deceived NPHU, added Mr Andre Moses Tan from MOH's legal office who handled the case with Mr Ho.

"The accused had denied his sexual partners their right to make an informed decision as to whether to proceed with sexual activity with him," said Mr Tan. "In fact, the accused did not even take the simple step of using protection."

Defence lawyer James Ow Yong asked for 35 months' jail instead, saying his client had no previous convictions and that he was "also bearing the brunt of his offences".

"HIV is, at this point in time, an incurable disease," said the lawyer. "The accused has to live with the ... impact of this disease all his life."

For his offences under the Infectious Diseases Act, the accused could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined up to S$50,000, or both.

For consuming meth, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined a maximum S$20,000, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(gs)

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