KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — Tan Sri Datuk Mohd Zaman Khan Rahim Khan knows the pain of losing a loved one to AIDS all too well.
Personal tragedies in the family spurred the former Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department director to work in harm reduction initiatives aimed at reducing HIV transmission in injecting drug users (IDUs).
Among the initiatives covered were needle exchange and drug substitution programmes.
His advocacy won him the prestigious Patron’s Award at the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF)-Berjaya Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Award Gala Dinner on Saturday night at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur.
The Patron’s Award commemorates the long-standing efforts of various individuals and corporations in the fight against AIDS.
Other recipients of the award were MAC Cosmetics and Datuk Dr Raj Karim.
When asked how he felt about receiving the accolade, Zaman Khan said it reminded him of why he decided to become an advocate in the first place.
“I didn’t expect the award and I had never thought of it before. I was always interested in working for the cause because I have a tragedy in my own family involving HIV and AIDS.
“One of my nephews was infected and spread it to his wife and two kids. They all passed away as a result,” he told Malay Mail.
The ex-Selangor Police Chief then suffered the loss of another nephew who passed away after getting HIV through unprotected sex.
Following his retirement from the police force in the late 1990s, the septuagenarian became involved with the Drug Prevention Association of Malaysia (Pemadam) which opened his eyes to the prevalence of HIV amongst drug users.
A timely meeting with then Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) president Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman and Australian epidemiologist and public health practitioner Prof Nick Crofts became the catalyst for his work in fighting the spread of HIV.
He later served as MAC president from 2010 to 2011.
The ex-cop expressed optimism about Malaysia’s move to decriminalise drug use, adding that it was a positive step towards getting drug users with HIV to come forward and access the treatment they need without fearing arrest.
“I think we’re doing quite well and we need to stop treating drug users as criminals. It’s a good step to getting them closer to rehabilitation.”
HIV transmission in IDUs only accounted for three percent of new cases last year, proving that needle exchange programmes have helped stem the spread of the disease.
Despite this, he still faced a fair share of challenges back in the day from conservative parties who believed the programmes were doing more harm than good.
“One group was vehemently against us because they viewed us as digging a second grave for drug users. But the needle exchange programme has proven to be effective.”
He went on to call for more education and awareness amongst Malaysians when it comes to HIV.
Discrimination, stigma, and misinformation continue to hinder people living with HIV from getting the assistance they need, he said.
“It’s more important to be educated because even now, there’s still strong prejudice and people look down at those with drug problems and HIV.”
“The campaign must go on and we need to reach more people.”