Plans for next phase on wiping out AIDS already in the works

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has already begun mapping out strategies and plans on the next phase of wiping out HIV AIDS in the country by 2030.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said that the national strategic fifteen year plan on ending AIDS in the country is set to be completed by the end of the year.

“The ministry has formed technical working groups from a wide spectrum of stakeholders in the country to formulate the blueprint and introduce breaking new innovations to take us to the end of AIDS,” he said in his speech at the opening of the International Harm Reduction Conference here today.

He added that the government is committed to fighting AIDS and it is apparent in its AIDS response expenditure where the government has spent some RM196 million this year alone

“A total 94% of that amount was from public funds, which shows the government's unwavering support in combating the disease,” he said.

The conference has brought together a melting pot of NGO’s and social workers who are advocates for harm reduction in eradicating HIV AIDS worldwide.

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use and is also a movement for social justice built on a belief and respect for the rights of people who use drugs.

It incorporates a spectrum of strategies including safer use, managed use, abstinence, meetings with drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use and with the use itself.

Dr Subramaniam explained that in 2006, the government had to take bolder efforts in a time where the HIV crisis was escalating.

“Set against the backdrop of an escalating HIV crisis among people who inject drugs, which at its peak accounted for 70% of new infections, we knew we had to take a bolder measure to address the alarming situation. We knew that harm reduction was the best option,” he said.

A decade on, the government's needle and syringe exchange programme (NSEP), and methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) – where non-governmental organisations reach out to Injecting Drug Users (IDU) and provide them with not only clean needles and syringes but also counselling that can eventually see them being referred for MMT – has seen major results on the ground.

“Our needle and syringe programme has benefited over 85,693 people who inject drugs, where drug substitution or methadone maintenance therapy has served up 74,816 clients,” he said.

He also added that the proportion of notified new HIV infections due to injecting drugs has shown significant reduction from 74% in 2002 to 19% in 2014.

“HIV cases overall has declined by 49% since 2002, which is a phenomenal success for the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, UNAIDS’ Regional Director Steve Kraus said that Malaysia is on the right track of ending HIV AIDS by 2030 and maybe even sooner.

“The government and community is making good choices and making breakthroughs in ending the AIDS epidemic without being soft on drugs. Malaysia has a very stand strong on drug use,” he said.

“Malaysia is a great example to the region and to the world with how to deal effectively with drug use and member states are all learning from Malaysia,” he said.