25 May 2007

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com Please.
Wednesday May 23, 2007

New signs of hope for the HIV+

If we continue our policy of providing almost-free treatment to Malaysians living with HIV, we can prevent many more deaths.


IT WAS one of those pieces of news that went both ways. At this past Sunday’s annual International AIDS Memorial Day commemoration, I caught up with many colleagues whom I had not seen for a long time.

One of them, from support group Prihatin for HIV-positive women in Kota Baru, told me that they were doing well after only three years. When they first started, they had over 100 women as members, mostly single mothers left widowed by AIDS. Now they have over 300.

On the one hand, it was good that these women had found a place they could go to for information, counselling and other help, as well as meet others in the same situation.

Many of them had in fact been HIV-positive for many, many years and had led lonely lives thinking they would always have to live hiding their status from the world. Learning about Prihatin had given them hope.

But on the other hand, I could not help but wonder. If Kota Baru alone had 300 HIV-positive single mothers, how many more must there be in other towns and cities around the country? Who would provide the type of help they need?

Still, there are signs of hope. Prihatin is training some other HIV-positive single mothers in Kedah to be peer educators and to start support groups to others like them. In Perak, the Buddies of Ipoh provide the same service to people with HIV.

One remarkable woman, known as Kak Pi, defies every negative stereotype that is placed on religious women by giving comfort and solace to women living with HIV without making any judgement on them.

While these efforts are examples of “leading the way to a world without HIV/AIDS”, the theme of this year’s commemoration, still it is hard to ignore the fact that there have been 79,389 reported cases of HIV/AIDS since the first one was detected in Malaysia 21 years ago. And of that, 9,155 have died.

The truly sad fact is that none of this is really necessary. If we had instituted realistic prevention programmes all those years ago, we would probably have not had these numbers by now.

And if we continue our policy of providing almost-free treatment to Malaysians living with HIV, we can prevent many more deaths as well as the family and community devastation that comes with them.

The only snag would be the lack of political will. If the political will to tackle HIV/AIDS slackens, we will hear nothing about AIDS in our country except for those few occasions during the year when events such as this are held.

If other priorities get in the way of people’s lives, the medicines to treat people with HIV will become unaffordable again and more lives will be lost. If effective prevention programmes lose out to political expediency, opportunities will be lost and may never be found again.

Recently, a delegation from our Prisons Department visited Iran to see at first hand how the Iranians tackle HIV/AIDS in the prison system. Despite its conservative image, Iran runs both needle exchange programmes and distributes condoms to prisoners.

Our delegation was impressed and is keen to do the same back home. The only thing that would stymie that would be weak or non-existent political will.

In the meantime, we need to open our eyes to more hotspots, at people who remain very vulnerable to HIV through no fault of their own. While HIV prevention for our own people is still inadequate, what is there for those among us whom we don’t even acknowledge exist?

What information do we provide for migrant workers who don’t speak any of our languages? How do these messages reach those whom we don’t even recognise such as refugees? We can’t wish them away when they are healthy, what more when they get sick with AIDS.

My colleagues working with refugees tell me that, increasingly, they are seeing HIV infections among them. Deporting them is no answer when there is nowhere that will take them.

Besides prevention and treatment, the component of a comprehensive response to AIDS that is still missing is care. Care means ensuring that people remain productive citizens even if they are HIV-positive, with jobs and homes and the means to care for their families.

Care includes policies that ensure stigma and discrimination against people with HIV is simply not tolerated. It means devising policies and frameworks that keep children with HIV and AIDS orphans in school. It involves providing micro-credit loans to AIDS widows so they can provide for their children.

None of this comes under the Health Ministry, the traditional domain of HIV/AIDS. Unless other ministries also have HIV/AIDS policies, care will forever remain neglected, and that caring society we want will never emerge.