All those infected with HIV will be given free life- prolonging drugs next year, as soon as the drugs can be locally produced. This puts Malaysia among the few countries in the world to provide the drugs, used in the Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), for free. The drugs are already free for a limited number of HIV-infected people, among them mothers and babies, said Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek. It is a sign the Government was "serious in fighting this epidemic", he said. "There are 20 new cases of HIV cases reported daily of which three are confirmed cases of AIDS, while two people die of the disease on a daily basis," he said Malaysian AIDS Council president Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir said the move meant the country was "very much in the forefront" of the global battle against HIV/AIDS. Some 58,000 Malaysians are infected with HIV. Of these, 6,545 have died of full-blown AIDS, Chua said today. Chua estimated that next year, another 4,000 people will be infected with HIV. In 2003 alone, 6,756 cases were detected. Three-quarters of these were aged between 13 and 39 years. Some 869 of these sufferers have died. Eighty per cent of them contract AIDS through intravenous drug use, and 13 per cent by heterosexual transmission. Roughly 0.7 per cent was due to mother to child transmission.
One out of every four people who voluntarily come in for
HIV/AIDS screening and counseling at health clinics in Malaysia
tested positive last year. "Walk-in" cases increased by 53.4
percent, with 451 reported for 2002, up from 294 for 2001,
according to Malaysian Red Crescent Society Vice Chair Dr. Datuk
Bahari Abu Mansor.
According to data compiled by the Malaysian AIDS Council,
Bahari said, the majority of cases contracted HIV through needle-
sharing or heterosexual relationships. Rising figures on the
number of people seeking counseling and testing show that
Malaysians are aware they put themselves at risk if they indulge
in such activities.
"We urge those who had been tested positive for the disease
to seek immediate counseling and treatment," Bahari said at a
Dec. 7 press conference to announce an HIV/AIDS awareness program
sponsored by MRCS, the Puteri Pan Pacific Hotel and MAC.
Bahari urged people not to stigmatize or discriminate
against HIV/AIDS patients. He said the Health Ministry recorded
51,256 HIV cases last December, 7,218 of which had progressed to
AIDS. Another 5,424 patients have died from the disease. Men made
up the bulk of new HIV cases, with only about 1 in every 10 new
cases occurring among women.
Johor reported the highest number of HIV infections last
year, with 1,421. Selangor had the second-highest number at
On World AIDS Day, Malaysian activists said deep-rooted reticence
about discussing sex and a reluctance to admit the existence of a
problem hinder Malaysia's fight against HIV/AIDS as infection
"We cannot close our eyes to the fact that there's an
epidemic here. What's alarming is the level of denial in
Malaysia," said Marina Mahathir, president of the Malaysian AIDS
Council. She said Malaysians hide behind terms like "sensitive"
as an excuse not to discuss the disease, and they blame
Westernization for rising infections.
But Marina said the opposite is true: that the country is
failing to tackle HIV/AIDS because Malaysian society is clinging
to its Asian values and refusing to talk about the problem. The
government's earlier reluctance to introduce sex education in
schools also hampered efforts, she noted.
"Malaysians think we will never become like Africa," Marina
warned. "That is simply not true."
Malaysia has a reported 57,000 HIV/AIDS cases, up 3,000 from
June of this year, according to Marina. Needle sharing accounts
for nearly 80 percent of cases, and heterosexual transmission (12
percent) is the second leading cause.
Marina, daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad,
said, "The government really needs to take the lead in this. The
problem is that we are doing piecemeal work, bits here and there...
it's not enough."
HIV need no longer be something to be feared, as affordable generic drugs are now available from public healthcare centres, Malaysian AIDS Council president Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir said. She said HIV/AIDS patients could now continue with their lives without having to fear that they may not be able to afford the required medication. “HIV is not the end for these people and we should change our perception that AIDS means death," she said in her speech when launching the second National HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy) Forum at the Renaissance Hotel yesterday. Marina said the Government should be more proactive in combating the disease by informing the public that help was available. She also said that by encouraging more people to get tested, the Government could identify HIV/AIDS carriers and educate them so that they would not infect others. At a press conference later, Marina said the council was helping 75 HIV/AIDS patients to obtain the drugs and at the same time, help them to rebuild their lives. "Compared with the 45,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers in this country, 75 people may be small but these people are able to sustain their lives ≠ working and providing food for their family and sending their children to school.
The Malaysian AIDS Council opposes a plan by the southern
Johor state to carry out mandatory pre-marital HIV tests on
Muslim couples. "We find that many practical issues in the
implementation of the fatwa [religious decree] have not been
thought through by the Johor Health Department and this will
cause the plan to fail," council President Marina Mahathir told
the Sun newspaper. The council fears the plan was not
scientifically sound, lacked trained staff and could cause
unnecessary distress for those with false positive results.
According to Mahathir, one objection was that there seemed to be
little concern about the window of time between infection and
testing positive, which would defeat the purpose of the pre-
Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman said the decree will
be implemented by November 13. "Initially there were some
objections that the fatwa violated individual rights and that
couples are denied their right to get married," Othman said.
"After much explanation, these people who opposed us in the
beginning understand the ruling and started to support it."
Under the Johor state fatwa, couples would be tested in state
hospitals, and the results would go to the religious authority.
If medically fit, the couple would be issued a certificate and
could then marry. If a test showed that a prospective bride or
groom had HIV/AIDS, it would be up to them if they wanted to go
on with their wedding, as they could not be prevented from doing
so. "We have to take the measure because Johor has recorded the
highest number of HIV infections with 8,000 cases last year,"
Abdul Ghani said.
Johor is the first among the 13 states in Malaysia to make
such a ruling. Religious matters come under the jurisdiction of
individual states. Another state, Negri Sembilan, said Wednesday
it had decided to follow Johor's example. The News Straits Times
newspaper cited a religious official who said that about 4,000
men and 93 women in the state had tested positive for HIV.