A major leak of the confidential data of 14,200 people with HIV in Singapore could hamper a fight against new infections among LGBT+ people in the city-state, campaigners said on Tuesday.
The health ministry said on Monday that an American, who lived in the country previously, disclosed online the details of 5,400 Singaporeans and 8,800 foreigners who were diagnosed with HIV in Singapore.
About half of the 434 new HIV cases reported in 2017 were transmitted through same-sex intercourse, official data shows. Gay sex remains a crime in Singapore under a British colonial-era law.
LGBT+ groups have set up support services following the breach, but campaigners said it would discourage LGBT+ people living with HIV from seeking help, fearing that their details will be compromised.
“The first hurdle for them to get tested or to approach social services is the issue of coming out. A lot of them are extremely afraid to be outed,” said Jean Chong, founder of Singapore-based LGBT+ rights group Sayoni.
“A lot of LGBT people will be even more fearful to get tested and to believe in Singapore’s healthcare system … it might drive more people underground,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Chong said her organisation had received about a dozen calls from people whose details had been leaked and who faced “huge” risks if they lost their jobs or were ostracised.
Singapore’s health ministry has apologised over the leak, saying it became aware in 2016 that US citizen Mikhy Farrera Brochez was in possession of confidential information that appeared to be from the country’s HIV registry.
Brochez was convicted in Singapore in 2017 on numerous drug-related and fraud offences, including lying to the authorities about his HIV-positive status. He was deported after serving a jail term.
His boyfriend, a Singaporean doctor, had access to the country’s HIV registry for his work at a government unit.
LGBT+ campaign group Oogachaga, which has set up an online and phone counselling service, said LGBT+ people who have yet to come out publicly were most vulnerable from the leak.
“It can only be expected that they are all under some distress,” Leow Yangfa, its executive director said in emailed comments.
Leow warned against a rise in “hateful comments” and that it would further stigmatise LGBT+ and people living with HIV.
The leak comes months after Singapore revealed the worst cyber attack in its history after hackers infiltrated the government health database. The HIV data leak was unrelated.