KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 — When it comes to tenacity and never giving up on spreading the word of HIV prevention, one names comes up: Hisham Hussein.
The stalwart in the field has been at it for some 30 years as PT Foundation chairman.
Hisham was also honorary secretary for the Malaysian AIDS Council and Malaysian AIDS Foundation for more than two decades.
For his services, he was among those awarded the long-serving trustee patron’s award at the Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Award Gala Dinner yesterday evening.
“I don’t think I deserve it. A simple ‘thank you’ would have enough. There are also many other people who have sacrificed a lot to do the work in HIV,” said the 63-year-old.
“I don’t feel like it’s been a long time. It feels like only yesterday. But it has actually been a crazy 30 years. We must not look back but look towards doing more in the future.”
The former Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) employee is also grateful that TNB allowed him to continue his non-governmental organisation work while working there.
He added that there is so much more that needs to be done to prevent the disease from spreading, emphasising that politics and religion should be left out of the equation.
“There are basic things that we should be doing. Simple things like asking people to use a condom. Or even say the word ‘condom’,” he said.
“It drives me up the wall. We need to drive the message through. We see new faces, younger faces infected every year. This is what continues to drive me to continue the work.”
His sense of urgency in “talking about sex” is understandable, considering that Health Ministry statistics showed that sexual transmission made up 91 per cent of all new infections last year.
Education, he added, needed to continue as those who were children 15 years ago were now grown up.
“They need to be told about sexual reproductive health. They need to be told what is safe sex. They need to get tested in order to know their status,” he added.
Among the most memorable moments for Hisham throughout the years were when the Malaysian AIDS Council organised the 5th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in 1999 when, among others, he witnessed Khartini Slamah, a transwoman sharing the same stage with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Another was when current national adviser for infectious diseases in the Health Ministry Datuk Dr Christopher Lee pushed for free anti-retroviral medication.
This resulted in the ministry providing free first-line medication for people living with HIV.
“Back then, it used to cost RM1,800 to RM2,000 per month for AZT and even then, you could probably just survive between three and five years,” he said.
“It was a death sentence. That is not the case now. People have lived 20 to 25 years with treatment. I used to cry back in the day when there were so many deaths.
“Now, I don’t need to go to the Hospital Kuala Lumpur morgue that much.
“But I still get angry when I see families treating their loved ones, who are infected, badly. This has to stop.”
“We need and must address the issue of stigma and discrimination in order to address fully HIV/AIDS.”
Malay Mail was media partner for the event.