The government has voiced its support for the rights of individuals with HIV (PLHIV) and to curb workplace discrimination.
Mr. Azman Abidin, representing the Prime MInister’s Office at the Red Ribbon Gala held on the 1st of December 2023, stated that the government supports the joint venture between the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) and the Ministry of Human Resources (KSM) in their latest project.
Support From the Prime Minister’s Office
The event raised RM1.8 million in funds to help continue the pursuit of eradicating HIV/AIDS in Malaysia. It was held in conjunction with MAF’s 20th anniversary and World AIDS day. Mr Azman stated that the government fully supports the amendment of the Employment Act 1995 and the Industrial Relations Act 1967. He mentioned this in a speech at the event held at Sunway Resort Hotel.
He further mentioned that the Malaysian AIDS Foundation and KSM are in the process of refining the proposal to reform this bill. The proposal also received support from the Ministry of Health (MOH), a few government-linked companies (GLCs) and stakeholders.
Long Overdue Legal Reform
Many employers in Malaysia still believe that PLHIV tends to reduce workplace productivity and the risk of workplace contagion.
The MAF is in the process of examining the two main legislations to gauge the chances of including clauses to protect the rights of PLHIV. In fact, the MAF is hoping to introduce a new bill on workplace protection for PLHIV. KSM has been playing a vital role in advising the MAF on the most effective methods to draft bills and proposals via the correct channels and legislative process. KSM is the primary stakeholder in this initiative.
Current Efforts To Screen and Treat HIV
The main treatment modality for HIV as of now is the anti-retroviral therapy (ART). It has changed the fate of PLHIV from a death sentence to a manageable condition with improved quality of life. This is in line with Malaysia’s National Plan for Ending AIDS (NSPEA) 2016-2030.
The nation plans to achieve a 95-95-95 target goal when it comes to the percentage of PLHIV who know their status, are receiving ART, and achieving viral suppression with treatment.
The prime minister’s office has confirmed that the government will continue to subsidise ART for PLHIVs. Mr. Azman said, ‘’The government is willing to bear the cost of procuring HIV medication that is known as antiretroviral therapy or ART because this treatment is able to give a second chance to those living with HIV to lead a normal and free of AIDS symptoms or clinical complications caused by HIV infection.’’
Paradigm Shift For A Better Future
Dr Marina Mahathir, a patron of MAF, emphasised the importance of lifelong medication for PLHIV. However, the lack of awareness among patients and the general public has made it rather difficult to ensure all PLHIV receive the necessary treatment. This is compounded by the fact that HIV is heavily stigmatised and discriminated against in Malaysia.
Dr. Marina also said, “It is difficult to survive if one feels the constant sting of prejudice. It is therefore our responsibility to proactively engage in spreading HIV education, particularly in the crucial battle against stigma and discrimination.’’ The availability of life-saving therapies is a crucial part of this, hence the need to continually support access to treatment and care,” she explained during her speech.
Reducing fear of discrimination and providing inclusivity is a major requirement to move forward as a nation to achieve results.
Healthcare technology provider DOC2US recently launched a virtual HIV/STD clinic, offering a range of services, including virtual consultations, remote monitoring, and medication delivery, which allows PLHIV and at-risk populations to receive care from their own homes. Their initiative will help patients come forward for screening, treatment and support.
The MAF is also seeking to improve their online platform, JomPrep, to help individuals who suffer from severe internal stigmatisation. MAF chairman Professor Dr. Adeeba Kamarulzaman stated that digital/virtual screening and consultations will encourage PLHIV to come forward by reducing worries about stigma or discrimination.
These efforts are welcome and will certainly benefit PLHIVs greatly. However, the Malaysian public plays a major role in helping achieve a paradigm shift that benefits the nation. Malaysians need to be more aware of HIV/AIDS, be more supportive of PLHIV and most importantly, be less judgemental.