Amid HIV and Covid-19 trials, Malaysia’s Dr Adeeba is first Asian president of International AIDS Society

Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman says it’s an honour to lead the world’s largest association of HIV professionals. — Picture courtesy of Malaysian AIDS Foundation
Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman says it’s an honour to lead the world’s largest association of HIV professionals. — Picture courtesy of Malaysian AIDS Foundation

KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 – Infectious diseases specialist Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman has been appointed president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), making her the first Asian to assume the leadership role.

Dr Adeeba, who is the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) chairman and Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) vice-president, was inaugurated at the IAS general members’ meeting which was held virtually this year and will take over the position from 2020 until 2022.

A well-known figure in Malaysia and globally for her efforts as a medical expert and advocate in the fight to end AIDS, Dr Adeeba was named IAS president-elect a year ago.

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the society is the world’s largest independent association of HIV professionals with members from more than 170 countries working together to reduce the impact of AIDS.

“As the first Asian president, it is a huge honour for me to take on the leadership of the IAS, the world’s largest HIV professionals with more than 12,000 members from around the globe.

“The IAS will continue to be at the forefront of the HIV response, making sure that the tremendous effort and achievements towards ending AIDS will continue despite the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Adeeba said.

She also spoke of how the challenges of HIV and Covid-19 are linked, as is the global response.

Dr Adeeba added that around the world, many who work with HIV have been called to lead the Covid-19 response.

“Just like the HIV pandemic, Covid-19 brings to the fore issues around inequality, social justice and systemic racism.

“And we know that progress in addressing both diseases can only be possible if racism, stigma and discrimination are addressed and multilateral cooperation and institutions strengthened,” she said.

Known for her dedicated involvement in the HIV/AIDS community response in Malaysia, Dr Adeeba trained in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases in Melbourne after graduating from Monash University.

She then established Universiti Malaya’s Infectious Diseases Unit and is an adjunct associate professor at Yale University and adjunct professor at Tulane University.

Dr Adeeba is also the dean of Medicine at Universiti Malaya.

On top of her academic pursuits, Dr Adeeba is passionate about harm reduction measures to address HIV issues among those who inject drugs in the country.

She was MAC president from 2006 to 2010 but her role in the organisation continues as an executive committee member.

As the MAF chairman, Dr Adeeba is devoted to raising funds for HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes formulated by MAC.

While she was MAC president, the medical expert found time in her busy schedule to establish the Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS at Universiti Malaya.

The centre, often abbreviated to CERiA, mainly conducts clinical research and basic science studies as well as epidemiological and socio-behavioural research focusing on people who use drugs, prisoners and men who have sex with men.

Dr Adeeba pointed out that Malaysia was lagging behind in achieving the 90-90-90 goals further illustrating the important role of multilateral cooperation and strong institutions.

“Countries less advanced than us for example, Cambodia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe have reached these goals,” she said.

90-90-90 refers to the UNAIDS treatment target to end the AIDS epidemic whereby 90 per cent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression by 2020.

“As has been shown by our success in containing the Covid pandemic, our health system has the capability to be amongst the best in the world.

“We need to replicate and maintain that effort and resolve to address all other health issues including HIV/AIDS.

“To an extent, I hope my role as president of IAS will help put a spotlight on the need to keep with the promise to bring an end to AIDS in Asia generally and in Malaysia specifically,” Dr Adeeba said.

Her regional and international organisations involvement includes Treat Asia, the International Society of Infectious Diseases and the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Committee on HIV which she co-chaired.

In 2010, Dr Adeeba was the XVII International AIDS Conference scientific co-chair in Vienna and in 2013, she hosted the 7th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Adeeba was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Laws from her alma mater Monash University in April 2015 for her outstanding achievements in medicine.

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