1 December 2014
Datuk Dr. Raj Karim
President of the Malaysian AIDS Council
World AIDS Day is a time of reflection.
We have made great strides in advancing HIV treatment and improving the quality of care for the more than 85,000 people living with HIV in this country. The Harm Reduction programme has proven to be successful in bringing down new HIV infections in drug injecting populations by 50 per cent.
It is also a time of caution.
While new infections in general are on a steady decline, those transmitted sexually continue to be on the rise. As a result, women today are becoming increasingly at risk for HIV. Access to first line HIV treatment, although provided free of charge at Government hospitals, is at best, limited (less than 45% of those eligible for it are actually on it). So is provision of HIV prevention services for those in need, the key affected populations – sex workers, drug users, men who have sex with men and transgender people.
And thirty years on, stigma and discrimination still remain the single biggest threat to the progress that we have made in the HIV response – pushing the hard-to-reach hidden key populations further away from lifesaving health services.
Looking at these challenges, one fact becomes clear. We must remain steadfast and hopeful in the face of adversity. More so than ever before, we, the greater community and civil society family, must stay united and resolute in our fight for equal access to health and bring stigma and discrimination to an end. For it was indeed our unified hope, voice and strength that have helped us get to where we are today. And we must let them continue to guide us in the next phase of the HIV response.
The global theme of World AIDS Day ‘Getting to Zero’ is entering its fourth year this year. Therefore, it is only timely that we begin to examine the value(s) behind our shared goals of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS related deaths.
From a health economics perspective, we have mounting evidence to show that HIV prevention services, such as the Harm Reduction programme (which in this country is led by the Ministry of Health) are cost-effective. From a recent analysis of the return on investment in Malaysia’s Harm Reduction efforts, we learned that since the implementation in 2006, a total of 12,653 HIV infections were successfully averted as a result of the programme. In return, it has helped the Government earn savings of up to RM47.1 million in direct health care costs, which the Government would have had to spend on treatment and monitoring. The old adage, prevention is better than cure (or in the case of HIV, treatment), could not ring any truer.
But behind the tangible value of the return on healthcare investments lie the human values that have shaped our HIV response – compassion, benevolence, reliance on scientific evidence, commitment to leadership and a strong sense of shared responsibility.
We have seen these values in action coming from all sectors, even from leadership at the highest level. We would not have been able to achieve the results that we are seeing today without the visionary leadership of our Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, who in his capacity as the Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Drugs in 2005 took the bold step to green light the Harm Reduction programme against much public opposition.
The corporate sector in this country too has begun to demonstrate its commitment to sharing the burden of the domestic AIDS spending. Grants, sponsorships and other forms of contribution to the Malaysian AIDS Council, Malaysian AIDS Foundation and Partner Organisations, particularly in the past two years, have allowed us to sustain our work in areas that are important but often ignored such as high-impact HIV advocacy and policy development.
The resilience, determination and integrity of my colleagues at the Malaysian AIDS Council as well as our Partner Organisations and their band of unsung heroes and volunteers in delivering critical community-based healthcare services in the most challenging scenarios imaginable must not go unmentioned.
As we continue to value the support of our other partners and collaborators across all sectors, especially the Ministry of Health and other Government agencies, on this World AIDS Day I personally could not help but feel a renewed sense of optimism that as long as we are guided by these basic human values, there is no storm that we cannot weather.
Malaysian AIDS Council
The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) was established in 1992 to serve as an umbrella organisation to support and coordinate the efforts of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on HIV & AIDS issues in Malaysia. MAC works in close partnership with government agencies, the private sector and international organisations, to ensure a committed and effective NGO-led response to the HIV epidemic. In addition to providing nationwide coverage of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services, MAC and its Partner Organisations serve as the common voice for communities most affected by HIV & AIDS in the country. Learn more at www.mac.org.my
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