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Sex workers hardest hit by aid cutback

 | March 8, 2012

Eighty-eight percent of money meant to stop the HIV virus from spreading to sex workers and transgenders this year was cut.

PETALING JAYA: More than 88% of the government’s HIV/AIDS funds to aid local sex workers and transgenders was cut this year, according to the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC).

The council said the government had allocated only RM100,000 for this group this year, as opposed to RM835,000 in 2011.

This is despite the findings of a MAC study in 2009, which revealed that one in every 10 sex workers and transgenders in the Klang Valley suffered from HIV.

MAC warned that this cut, which was part of an alleged wider slashing of HIV/AIDS funds by the Health Ministry, could affect efforts to keep the deadly virus from spreading.

“…a study undertaken jointly by the Health Ministry and MAC in 2009 showed that one in 10 sex workers and transgenders in the Klang Valley and one in five injecting drug users (IDU) are infected with HIV.

“These cuts (in funds) could seriously jeopardise efforts to reverse the HIV epidemic among this population,” the MAC said in a statement.

The MAC said that only 2% of the RM5.3 million approved by the ministry for fighting HIV/AIDS this year would go towards HIV prevention programmes for sex workers and transgenders.

Prevention programmes for IDUs got the lion’s share of the funds, or RM2.9 million. The buying of items such as needles and condoms (for distribution) was priced at RM2.2 million, while hospital peer support programmes by RM365,000.

The MAC also claimed that sexual transmission (hetero and homo/bisexual) transmission was the “primary mover” of the HIV epidemic.

No progress reports

On the other hand, it added that there was no budget allocated for HIV prevention programmes for men who had sex with men.

According to the MAC, the large cutback would cause a number of programmes including two Needle and Syringe Exchange Programme (NSEP) sites in Johor and one in Kuala Lumpur to disappear.

(NSEP programmes not only exchange used needles and syringes for sterile ones, but also disposes of them safely. They also educate people suffering from HIV and refer them to rehabilitation centres as well as other health agencies.)

According to MAC, 17 NSEP sites served more than 24,000 registered drug users in 2010, giving out more than 300,000 NSEP kits (containing fresh needles and syringes).

Although MAC lauded the government for having “tremendous foresight” in fighting the disease, it said that the ministry needed to fund these programmes, instead of cutting them off.

At the moment, the government does not combat the disease directly. It leaves this task to the NGOs to manage, and funds them through the MAC.

Late last month, FMT reported on concerns that the HIV epidemic would spread following cuts to HIV/AIDS funds meant for social programmes.

The cut came after a panel – consisting of various government agencies – found that many of the NGOs did not send in proper progress reports.

Because of this, the panel did not approve of some of the proposals put forth by these NGOs, forcing many to sack their employees.

The MAC warned that about 80 HIV/AIDS social workers – some of whom may have been sex workers themselves – risked getting infected with the disease.

“At the grassroots level, the funding cut will have an adverse impact on the livelihoods of programme implementers… putting them at a greater risk of HIV infection,” the MAC said.


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