BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – More younger men have been diagnosed with HIV in Brunei, raising questions on the potential impact of the lifelong health condition on work productivity.

Dr Justin Wong, head of the Ministry of Health’s disease control division, said data showed HIV infections disproportionately affecting younger men since 2013, with the highest rate among the 20-35 age group.

During a forum titled “Implications of HIV in The Workplace” to mark World AIDS Day 2019, he said 90 percent of HIV patients were men.

“Men are more promiscuous and have multiple sexual partners,” he said.

Dr Wong said Brunei conducts about 200,000 medical tests every year, including HIV testing for expectant mothers and prospective foreign workers.

From January to November 13 this year, 31 new HIV cases were reported and three AIDS-related deaths.

A record high of 41 people were diagnosed with HIV last year. Out of the figure, 93 percent were men and 32 percent were aged 25 to 29.

A total of 219 people are known to be living with HIV in the country.

‘Employers should not discriminate against those with HIV’

Dr Wong said HIV patients in the 20-35 age group are expected to be working for another 20 to 40 years.

“It may affect their socio-economic status particularly if they are discriminated at their workplace or they lose their jobs because of HIV and if they fall ill [because of an untreated HIV infection],” he added.

Assistant Labour Commissioner Rozan Justin Teo Hj Azlan said there are no laws that preclude an employer from hiring a HIV-positive employee.

“Our department takes a very open stance with regards to employment especially when it concerns local jobseekers, young people who are looking for employment.

“Aside from inherent [job] requirements, there should be no reason why a citizen of our country should not be allowed the opportunity to apply, be interviewed and be considered for a specific job,” he said.

Rozan added that that there may be individuals who feel that they were let go from work because of stigma and discrimination towards their health condition.

The Labour Department has yet to receive any reports where an employee was unfairly dismissed from their job because of their HIV-positive status, he said.

The assistant commissioner said many major companies in Brunei do not consider HIV/AIDS a cause for concern when it comes to employment.

However, there are certain jobs where it is required to disclose HIV status, such as first responders or those working in the medical profession, said Dr Alice Lai, head of the ministry’s Occupational Health Division.

“For certain occupational groups, HIV testing may be required, such as health care workers and first responders to ensure there is no risk to public safety.”

Dr Wong added that medical testing is crucial because a person with HIV may not show symptoms and can still transmit the virus to another person.

“Being on treatment protects yourself from developing AIDS and also protect others from getting HIV. That is why early detection and treatment is critical to end the AIDS epidemic.

“Most of the time people living with HIV can lead a normal life and in countries like Brunei where treatment is free and provided, the life expectancy of someone living with HIV shouldn’t be any different from the life expectancy of you and I,” he added.

Brunei recorded its first local HIV case in August 1986. Since then, there have been 278 HIV cases among citizens and permanent residents and 59 people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

The number of HIV cases recorded among women since 1986 is 42. Brunei has also registered four cases of mother-to-child transmission since 1995.

This article was updated at 12.37pm on Dec 3, 2019 to reflect a clarification to the 16th paragraph.