To beat AIDS, end the stigma says expert

An AIDS expert says that a harm reduction programme had reduced the number of new cases to 100 a year.

KUALA LUMPUR: AIDS can only be eradicated in Malaysia after a change in attitude towards LGBT people, sex workers and people who inject drugs, according to Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the International AIDS Society.

Adeeba said HIV patients could now be effectively treated with pills that would prevent patients from spreading the disease to their sex partners and even their unborn children, she added.

“However, implementing this amazing advance in science has been a challenge, not least because those most at risk or have become infected are also those most stigmatised, vilified and discriminated against,” she said.

These included those who were gay, men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and those who inject drugs.

Ending Aids in Malaysia by 2030 would remain a pipe dream unless these communities were respected and treated with dignity, and a public health approach is taken to treating these people, she said at a dinner of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation for the Berjaya Dr Siti Hasmah Award.

She stressed the importance of the local community reaching out to marginalised groups, highlighting how several organisations took part in a harm reduction programme in 2006, delivering clean needles and syringes to drug users, which drew flak from the public.

The outreach workers had been instrumental in helping to bring down the rate of new infections from as high as 5,000 in the early 2000s to less than 100 new infections last year.

A study by an AIDS research centre at Universiti Malaya found that the harm reduction programme saved the government around RM250 million, she said.