Monday, June 05, 2006

UN lauds HIV/AIDS reduction methods

Star: NEW YORK: The United Nations has praised Malaysia for its progressive approaches in reducing HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users.
UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, in its report issued this week, commended Malaysia as one of the few countries doing this.
It said that overall, fewer than 20% of people who injected drugs received HIV prevention services.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said that the singling out of Malaysia for praise by the UN showed that the country was very committed and had a consistent policy in reducing the HIV vulnerability of marginalised and vulnerable groups.
“The Prime Minister has shown commitment and made it clear that the Government wants to reverse the HIV/AIDS trend because this is the only millennium goal of eight that we have not achieved,” he said.
Dr Chua was attending the high-level meeting and comprehensive review of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS at the United Nations.
He said the new national strategic plan on HIV/AIDS was aimed at checking the spread of the deadly disease and preventing it from becoming an epidemic.
“However, the reality is we continue to face numerous challenges including human resources constraints, technical expertise, effective interventions that meet the needs of vulnerable groups and most of all, stigma and discrimination,” Dr Chua told the UN meeting.
He said that last year alone, 6,120 people tested HIV positive, giving rise to a rate of 17 new infections per day.
Although injecting of drugs by addicts remains the major mode by which HIV is spread, recent trends indicate that heterosexual transmission is increasing the number of infections among women.
Dr Chua said the strategies in the National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS for 2006 to 2010 would, among others, centre on strengthening leadership and advocacy; enhancing training and capacity; reducing HIV vulnerability among injecting drug users and their partners; women, young people and children; marginalised and vulnerable groups; and improving access to treatment, care and support.
Dr Chua said that Malaysia had made prevention and treatment notably more accessible and affordable.
“We took steps to import cheaper generic medication through compulsory licensing and with that we were able to triple the number of people on anti-retroviral therapy over the last three years,” he added.
Malaysia was one of the few countries that broke patent laws of generic drugs for non-commercial purposes and was thus able to bring down the cost of treatment for patients.
Dr Chua said that the Government, in recognising that injecting drug use was the main driver of the epidemic, took bold steps through the Health Ministry and the Malaysian AIDS Council, and introduced harm reduction programmes in October last year.
These programmes included opiate substitution therapy and needle and syringe exchanges.
In addition, he said, special targets and time lines had been set to achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support services.
Dr Chua would be visiting the National Centre for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine and the Vaccine Research Centre in Washington.
In addition, he would be meeting Alex Azar, the Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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