Make anti-HIV drug more widely available, govt urged

(From left) Malaysian AIDS Council president Bakhtiar Talhah, Malaysian AIDS Foundation patron Marina Mahathir and gala dinner co-chair Florence Fang.

KUALA LUMPUR: The government should expand the usage of the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) anti-HIV drug as it is one of the tools that can be used to help eradicate HIV.

Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) president Bakhtiar Talhah said the drug has proven to prevent the transmission of HIV virus for people who engage in risky behaviour.

Bakhtiar, who is also the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) secretary, said Malaysia has yet to make PrEP widely available.

“It is still in its pilot stage and I think it’s definitely a tool that the government should consider expanding,” he said at a press conference in conjunction with the Malaysian AIDS Foundation-Berjaya Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Award gala dinner to be held on Saturday.

Bakthiar also noted that there is a lot of stigma surrounding HIV-AIDS that people refuse to get treatment despite it being free.

“Only 50% of those with HIV get treated for it. The other half that know they’re HIV positive refuse to get treatment,

“We have made advances in making treatment available but stigma and discrimination are stopping Malaysians from coming forward,” he said.

According to statistics by the MAF and MAC, a total of 118,556 HIV cases were reported from 1986 to 2018.

Last week, community-based PT Foundation chairman Hisham Hussein said that PrEP should be available free of charge, or at minimal cost, at government hospitals.

Currently, the drug is free for legally married couples where one partner is HIV-positive.