For Immediate Release
LGBT fear mongering fuels AIDS epidemic
KUALA LUMPUR, 15 October 2017 – We speak against homophobia, transphobia, and fear mongering against LBGT people for being the “biggest contributors” of new HIV infections in Malaysia as reported by a number of media outlets this past week.
There is no denying that Malaysia is facing a sexual health crisis. Of the reported 3,397 new HIV infections last year, 84 per cent or 2,864 were sexually transmitted – 1,553 homo/bisexual (46 per cent) and 1,311 heterosexual transmissions (38 per cent) respectively.
The rise in sexually transmitted HIV has come to characterise the national AIDS epidemic since 2010 when, for the first time, new HIV infections attributed to sexual transmission superseded unsafe drug injecting practices and other modes of transmission.
Recognising its public health implications, a set of strategies specifically targeting key populations affected by this situation – female sex workers, transgender people, and men who have sex with men (MSM) – were put into action and, in subsequent years, intensified.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Health Malaysia, our Partner Organisations reach out to the aforementioned key populations, delivering nationwide coverage of high-impact community-based HIV prevention and treatment services. These include venue-based outreach, case management, treatment adherence peer support, and more recently, community-based HIV testing.
Linkages to and uptake of existing HIV testing and treatment services provided for free at Government healthcare facilities have markedly improved over the years, owing to the introduction of community-friendly measures and other stigma reduction efforts.
In Kuala Lumpur, for instance, more than 1,400 MSM, transgender people, and female sex workers received HIV related services in eight Government healthcare facilities between January and August this year alone.
We are particularly heartened by this encouraging development. Key populations once driven underground due to fear, stigma, and discrimination have begun to come forward to access lifesaving HIV healthcare services.
However, we are fearful of the adverse effects of homophobia, transphobia, and LBGT fear mongering on the progress of ending AIDS by 2030 – the ultimate goal of the national AIDS response. There is enough evidence to prove that in settings where LGBT people are targeted, discriminated against, and persecuted, the AIDS epidemic thrives.
We have made significant progress in the national AIDS response, particularly in advancing the harm reduction strategy that has more than halved new HIV infections among people who inject drugs in the past decade. The harm reduction success story provides further evidence that when structural barriers to equitable HIV health are broken down and stigmatising beliefs, attitudes, and practices are challenged, progress prevails.
The same approach needs to be applied to the strategy addressing the current HIV sexual health crisis.
To this end, we have mobilised our efforts to support the establishment of the National Task Force on Mitigation of HIV through Sexual Transmission under the leadership of the Ministry of Health Malaysia, which is underway.
The recent HIV & Islam Roundtable Meeting with the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) and state religious authorities resulted in a resolution that, among other things, aligns the HIV and Islam programming with the Ministry of Health Malaysia’s National Strategic Plan for Ending AIDS 2016-2030 to support the efforts of the Malaysian AIDS Council and its Partner Organisations towards strengthening HIV prevention efforts for key populations.
Meeting the ending AIDS targets – 95 per cent of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 95 per cent of people living with HIV are on antiretroviral treatment, 95 per cent of people on antiretroviral treatment achieve viral suppression – is a shared responsibility. It begins by treating key populations as equals in the AIDS response and ensuring that they are not left behind.
The 2016 United Nations General Assembly Political Declaration on Ending AIDS underlines the protection of rights of key populations to health as key to ending AIDS. If we are serious about making ending AIDS by 2030 a reality, we must not allow homophobia, transphobia, and anti-LBGT sentiments to pervade HIV and AIDS discourse in our society.
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]