Foundation curing reluctance of doctors to treat AIDS patients

Malaysian AIDS Foundation chairman Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman says 40% of those with HIV/AIDS have not sought treatment.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) is working hard to reduce the reluctance of healthcare providers to treat HIV and AIDS.

MAF chairman Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said there is still a need to educate medical practitioners, especially doctors in private practice.

“We have done studies. We’ve confirmed the stigma is still rife among medical students and doctors.

“However, we have introduced a programme called HIV Connect to train doctors on antiretroviral treatment and the response has been good,” she told FMT on the sidelines of an MAF panel session.

Earlier, during the panel session, Adeeba said there was no longer a need for advertisements against the spread of HIV/AIDS — like those marketing “condoms on buses” in the old days — because of technology.

She also referred to PrEP, a drug used in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

“PrEP is like taking oral contraceptive pills to prevent pregnancy.

“People who have high risk can take a pill before a ‘high risk’ act and it has been proven to reduce your chance of getting the HIV virus.

“So, there is no need to do the kind of campaigning we did in the 1990s. Because we have the technology, we can reach out to people who are at risk,” she said.

However, she said the investment in this area is lacking currently.

Adeeba said Malaysia may not meet the global target of ending AIDS by 2030 if individuals diagnosed with the HIV virus don’t seek medical treatment.

She estimated 40% of those affected have not sought medical assistance.

“This is because they fear treatment or they feel ashamed. Others are drug users and are in prison.

“We need to encourage people to be tested. One way is community testing and the other is self-testing and peer-to-peer testing,”

The MAF and the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) are collaborating with the health ministry in the “Ending AIDS by 2030” public awareness campaign, which began in 2016.

Adeeba said the harm reduction project, which started in 2005, has seen a decline in the number of HIV positive cases among injecting drug users (IDUs).

The project consists of a needle-and-syringe exchange programme (NSEP) on site and methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) carried out at government hospitals and health clinics.

“We have seen a big decline in HIV infection under this project. But we cannot celebrate yet because drug use has changed from heroin to ATS (amphetamine-type stimulants).

“So, instead of giving out clean needles and syringes, we need to find different ways of prevention and support for people at risk from drug use,” she said.

Adeeba said the government needed to look at the “bigger picture”, including decriminalising certain drugs and to stop putting people in prison for drug use.

“How do you reach out to those in prison? While there is mandatory testing in prison, the access to care and antiretroviral therapy is not very good.

“Access to medication is also a problem.”

The other panellists were Malaysian AIDS Foundation patron Marina Mahathir and a person living with HIV, Tareq Nassri. The discussion was moderated by Kamarul Bahrin.