HIV concerns all, a shared responsibility — Malaysian AIDS Council

FEBRUARY 23 — In light of the recent debate around HIV and homosexuality which has been making the rounds in a number of online news portals this past week, Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) wishes to clarify that HIV is an epidemic that concerns all. While certain key populations namely people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people and sex workers continue to be disproportionately affected by and at risk for HIV, the fact remains that the epidemic, globally and in the Asia Pacific region, is predominantly heterosexual in nature.

In 2013, heterosexual HIV transmission accounted for half of the 3,393 new infections in Malaysia, far ahead of other modes of transmission such as homo/bisexual contacts and unsafe drug injections, both at 22 per cent respectively.

We must recognise that it is not a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or the fact that he/she is a drug user or sex worker that puts one at risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV, but the failure to adhere to appropriate measures to prevent HIV for lack of knowledge and access to prevention tools in addition to a myriad of other factors. In Malaysia, restrictive socio-cultural and legal environment and pervasive stigma and discrimination prevent individuals most at-risk from coming forward to access HIV prevention and treatment services.

Stigma and discrimination breed fear and misconceptions, push key populations further to the margins of society and discourage them from accessing lifesaving HIV testing and treatment services, thus creating an endless vicious cycle of fear and undiagnosed (and untreated) HIV.

To end HIV, attitudes, languages and practices that stigmatise key populations and high-risk behaviours must change.

The escalating sexual HIV transmission calls for urgent involvement of individuals, communities, healthcare providers, religious leaders, policy makers and organisations across all relevant sectors to realise their roles in contributing positively to the ongoing discourse on HIV and sexual health, challenging stigma and improving linkages to HIV healthcare services.

HIV in Malaysia was first recorded in 1986. As of December 2013, a total of 101,672 cases have been notified, while 20,235 people have lost their lives to AIDS related illnesses.

Refer to the attached fact sheet for more up-to-date information on the current state of the HIV epidemic in Malaysia.

* The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) was established in 1992 to serve as an umbrella organisation to support and coordinate the efforts of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on HIV and AIDS issues in Malaysia. MAC works in close partnership with government agencies, the private sector and international organisations, to ensure a committed and effective NGO-led response to the HIV epidemic.  In addition to providing nationwide coverage of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services, MAC and its Partner Organisations serve as the common voice for communities most affected by HIV and AIDS in the country. Learn more here.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.  

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