PETALING JAYA: The government is moving in the right direction but more needs to be done to reduce the number of HIV cases in the country, the Malaysian AIDS Council said.
Council president Dr Raja Iskandar Raja Azwa commended Putrajaya for making free pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available at selected government hospitals and health clinics.
However, he said the government must make other services available to treat those infected with the virus.
“PrEP cannot be relied on as the sole measure of public health intervention.
“There needs to be a focus on diagnosing people who are not aware they have HIV and getting them on treatment as fast as possible,” he told FMT.
Iskandar said individuals receiving treatment can achieve a reduced viral load, a key factor in preventing HIV transmission.
“When you have an undetectable viral load, you cannot sexually transmit HIV to your partners. Getting people on treatment sooner, along with PrEP, can eliminate HIV, even in the absence of a vaccine.
“We need to increase the number of people on HIV treatment. We’re talking about getting 50,000 to 100,000 individuals on treatment, because these are the potential numbers of people at risk of HIV,” he said.
In December last year, the health ministry announced the availability of free PrEP thorough health screenings and prescriptions at selected public health clinics in HIV-prevalent states, starting from January 2023.
Currently, more than 2,000 individuals have received PrEP at 21 health clinics nationwide. The government plans to make the medication available at another 30 or more clinics next year.
However, the health ministry’s goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030 may be derailed.
On Monday, health minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa said that presently an average of eight people contract HIV daily in the country.
Jaafar Daud, the Selangor branch chairman of drug rehabilitation NGO Pengasih, said the government needs to engage at-risk individuals through community-based initiatives.
“We need to first spread awareness. At the same time, the government needs to work together with communities to provide free HIV screenings, which would encourage affected individuals to come forward,” he said.
Jaafar added that initiatives like free PrEP are crucial to motivate individuals to seek help.
“When they come forward, healthcare workers can delve into the problems individuals face and begin to understand their plights.
“Only when this happens can a change of lifestyle be suggested or education be provided. If they don’t come forward, their situations would likely become even worse,” he added.
Today is World AIDS Day 2023. Celebrations across the globe aim to raise awareness and support for people living with HIV and AIDS, and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is ‘Let communities lead’, which highlights the vital role of community-led organizations in shaping the HIV response and advancing the goal of ending AIDS by 2030.