SINGAPORE said yesterday that it had lifted a two-decade-long ban on HIV-infected people from entering the country, but will limit their stay to a maximum of three months.
The health ministry said the ban was lifted on 1 April, “given the current context with more than 5,000 Singapore residents living with HIV and the availability of effective treatment for the disease.”
The three-month restriction is apparently aimed at preventing long-term residence by foreigners, such as those looking to work in the island nation or looking to accompany a child studying there.
“The policy on the repatriation and permanent blacklisting of HIV-positive foreigners was recommended in the late 1980s when the disease was new, fatal and no effective treatment was available,” a ministry spokesman said. While a short-term visit “poses very low additional risk of HIV transmission to the local population,” the ban on a long-term one remains as “the public health risk posed by long-stayers is not insignificant,” the spokesman said.
Countries such as Australia and New Zealand have similar restrictions on long-term visitors with HIV.
Short-term visitors to Singapore have to obtain a Social Visit Pass that is valid for two to four weeks, and may subsequently be renewed for up to three months. Pass holders are not allowed to work in the city-state.
HIV attacks the immune system and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the end-stage of an HIV infection.
While there is no cure, treatments such as anti-retroviral therapy have helped individuals boost their immune systems.
Roy Chan, the president of local voluntary group Action for Aids, said his organisation welcomed the move as a step toward a greater acceptance of HIV-infected people.
“While things have improved slightly, we cannot forget that many are still being asked to leave their jobs and are ostracised by friends and family because of HIV infection,” said Mr Chan.
“Many still suffer alone, and have trouble securing jobs and health insurance.
“We need a supportive environment that does not discriminate a person because he or she is HIV infected. The repeal of the short-term entry ban is one such example of what we need to do.”
According to latest health ministry figures, there were 6,685 HIV-infected Singapore residents in 2014, in a population of 5.3 million, of whom 1,737 have died.
HIV can be transmitted through blood, pregnancy and sexual intercourse.