INTERNATIONAL AIDS MEMORIAL DAY 2017 MESSAGE
For Immediate Release
Ending AIDS Together
By Bakhtiar Talhah
President, Malaysian AIDS Council
Every third Sunday in May, communities around the world gather to pay tribute to families, friends and loved ones who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS-related illnesses.
Since the beginning of the epidemic over three decades ago, more than 35 million AIDS-related deaths have been reported worldwide, of which 1.1 million were recorded in 2015. However, AIDS-related deaths globally have dropped by 45 per cent since the peak in 2005, thanks in large part to improved access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, particularly in high-burden countries.
The scenario in Malaysia – a country with a concentrated AIDS epidemic among key affected populations namely people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and men who have sex with men – mirrors this global trend. Of the 108,519 notified HIV infections, 17,916 resulted in deaths (until the end of 2015). In tandem with the 50 per cent reduction in annual new HIV infections between 2000 and 2015, AIDS-related deaths have stabilised during the same period as a result of the Government’s provision of free first-line ARV treatment for all Malaysians.
Indeed, we have come very far from the early days of the epidemic. Advances in HIV science – especially the development, accessibility and versatility of ARV in not only treating but also preventing HIV when used as pre and post-exposure prophylaxis – have turned the tide on many an AIDS epidemic worldwide – including our own – and, in turn, motivated governments and communities to make bold commitments in the AIDS response.
Ending AIDS by 2030, arguably, is the most ambitious of them all.
A target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3, ending AIDS as a public health threat in the Malaysian context means a 90 per cent reduction in new HIV infections between 2010 and 2030. In the National Strategic Plan for Ending AIDS 2016-2030, the Ministry of Health Malaysia projects that such goal is attainable if, and only if, both HIV prevention and treatment interventions are aggressively scaled up, with the latter being offered to all Malaysians upon confirmation of diagnosis. If the progress of the AIDS response continues at the current rate, the epidemic will remain stagnant with no end in sight.
But ending AIDS is by no means the sole responsibility of the Government nor is it the NGO sector’s. This year, as we remember the human cost of the AIDS epidemic, we are being reminded to work towards “ending AIDS together” – together being the operative word.
The smart partnership between the Government and the NGO sector led by the Malaysian AIDS Council over the past decade has resulted in the expansion of harm reduction, a strategy designed to reduce the vulnerability to HIV among people who inject drugs, leading to a 60 per cent reduction in new HIV cases via the drug injecting route and averting more than 12,000 new infections since 2006. Access to HIV testing and treatment – particularly for key affected populations who are driven underground due to stigmatisation and discrimination – has significantly improved through collaborative Government-NGO innovations such as community-based testing, hospital-based treatment adherence peer support and case management for sexual health programming.
The role of the general public is undeniably critical to ending AIDS in Malaysia. As sexual transmission of HIV continues to rise at an alarming rate – 78 per cent of new HIV cases in 2015 were transmitted sexually – now, more than ever before, having accurate HIV and AIDS knowledge and knowing one’s HIV status is of paramount importance.
The HIV sexual health crisis also puts women at greater risk, underscoring the need to eliminate gender and socioeconomic disparities that undermine access to HIV care. Young people are becoming increasingly affected as well, signaling a push for sex education and a review of age-restrictive barriers in healthcare.
At the height of the AIDS epidemic some 30 years ago, despite limited progress in HIV science and even more limited resources, small-time activists and communities banded together to mobilise and shape the grassroots AIDS movement into the global agenda it is today. It was togetherness that sparked the revolution, and it is togetherness that will take us to the end of AIDS.
Note to the Editor
The International AIDS Memorial Day (or International AIDS Candlelight Memorial) is one of the world’s oldest and largest grassroots mobilisation campaigns for HIV awareness. Started in 1983, this year’s observance falls on 21 May and carries the theme Ending AIDS Together.
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 and 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 and AIDS in the country. Learn more at www.mac.org.my
Malaysian AIDS Council
Zaki Arzmi │ 016.292.2948 │ [email protected]
Meera Abi | 016.414.6400 | [email protected]