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8 Dec 2005

5 HIV+ blood donors sentenced to jail in s'pore

A Singapore court has sentenced five men to eight to ten months in jail for providing false information when donating blood, which was later found to contain the HIV virus.

Five HIV-positive male blood donors, four of whom were found to have lied about having sex with other men when donating blood last year, were sentenced to jail terms of between eight to ten months on Wednesday. One had an orgy with women he had known for less than six months.

According to local reports, they were found to be HIV-positive after their blood was tested routinely for the disease. The blood was not used for any transfusion.

The men, aged between 21 and 37 at the time of sentencing, were charged under the Infectious Diseases Act with making false declarations in the Donor Health Assessment Questionnaire.

All blood donors have to fill out a detailed questionnaire about their health and sexual history as well as travel details prior to donating blood. Like the US and many other countries, Singapore prohibits men who have sex with men from donating blood.

The court was told that investigations revealed that the men had lied about their sexual history. One had an orgy with several women in 2003 but declared the following year in a form that he had not had sex with more than one woman over the past year.

Three other men had sex with different men for at least three years but claimed otherwise while the other admitted to having sex with a man on five occasions in 2000.

Judge Jasbendar Kaur said that while the court sympathised with their medical condition, "it cannot ignore the inherent dangers each time a donor gives false information There is a need to send a signal to donors that they should not take these questions lightly."

The men could have been jailed up to two years and fined up to S$20,000 (US$ 11,860) while previous sentences for similar offences ranged from one and 15 months in jail.

An AfA source Fridae spoke to advised gay men who have had sex (even if it was just once) and who cannot be absolutely certain of their HIV status to abstain from donating blood as lying in the questionnaire could "render them liable to prosecution for supplying false information" if the blood is later found to contain the virus. Donors should be aware of the "window period" of the virus infection as it might not be detected by tests at the time.

"All donors are required to answer every question truthfully. Any answer, which is false or misleading, would render them liable to prosecution for supplying false information under the Infectious Diseases Act," the questionnaire warned.

In related news, The Straits Times on Monday reported that Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, said that one in 25 gay men in Singapore could be HIV-positive while acknowledging the fact that the data from the anonymous testing clinic at Kelantan Lane run by non-governmental organisation, Action for AIDS (AfA), is sketchy.

He was quoted as saying, "There are many, many questions about this data.

"Is this representative of all gays? Or is it representative of a sample of gays? We can't answer this question unless we do more detailed studies which may invade into people's privacy."

AfA's programme manager Abdul Hamid Hassan said in the news report that the figure could be an overestimate, or an underestimate.

Other observers have questioned the minister's interpretation of the number as it suggests that he has an estimate of the number of gay men in Singapore; they added that the numbers are at best representative of the people who had gone to the anonymous clinic for tests.

According to official numbers, Singapore has a total of 2,584 HIV infections to date, of whom 954 have died, 631 have full-blown AIDS and 999 show no symptoms.


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