Some patients who are affected by the recent HIV data leak have reported to medical social workers about feeling suicidal, said Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Tuesday (12 February).
Gan was responding to MacPherson Member of Parliament (MP) Tin Pei Ling’s question on the risk of “potential suicides” among the individuals affected by the data leak, after delivering his Ministerial Statement on the incident.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) had announced on 28 January that the confidential data of 14,200 HIV-positive individuals and 2,400 others who were identified through contact tracing had been leaked online by 34-year-old American fraudster Mikhy K Farrera Brochez.
Brochez was in a relationship with Ler Teck Siang, 37, who was Head of the MOH’s National Public Health Unit from March 2012 to May 2013 with access to the HIV registry.
The leaked data included the affected individuals’ names, identification numbers, contact details, HIV test results, and related medical information.
“I have gotten feedback from my medical social workers who were working on calling the patients and they do tell me that in their calls, there were patients who were suicidal,” said Gan, who did not disclose the number of affected patients.
These workers have to manage the case very delicately and make judgments on how much to tell them in order not to stress them further, Gan said. They have referred the patients to relevant parties for help, such as the Institute of Mental Health, he added.
Social workers would also often refer them to people whom they are familiar with, such as those within their support groups. “These are very delicate issues and I don’t want to go into specific details for various reasons,” Gan said.
Of the 5,400 Singaporeans diagnosed with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, from 1985 to January 2013 listed in the leaked data, 2,180 had been “successfully reached” by the MOH as of 1pm on 30 January, said the ministry on the same day.
1,900 have passed away.
The others who were listed in the data were 8,800 foreigners – including work and visit pass applicants and holders – diagnosed with the disease up to December 2011.
In a statement given to Yahoo News Singapore last Friday, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) Senior Assistant Director Wong Lai Chun said that the suicide prevention centre had received a “few calls” from those affected by the HIV data leak.
“Individuals who are affected by the leak may wish to seek emotional support from SOS’s 24-hour Hotline (1800-221 4444) or Email Befriending (firstname.lastname@example.org) service,” Wong added.
When asked on Tuesday about the number of calls received from affected individuals, Wong said that the organisation would not be able to quantify them “as the nature of each call varies widely”.
The data breach happened after Brochez was deported from Singapore in April last year. He had earlier served a 28-month jail sentence for fraud and drug-related offences.
Ler, who resigned from the MOH in January 2014, was sentenced to 24 months’ jail in September last year for abetting Brochez in cheating and providing false information to the police and the ministry.
He is currently awaiting the results of an appeal against his conviction and sentence.
In June 2016, Ler was also charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for “failing to retain possession of a thumb drive” containing data from the HIV registry.
His OSA charge has been stood down pending his appeal.
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