Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Housewives the biggest risk group for HIV

Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 (Sin Chew Daily) -- Housewives under assault from HIV! According to the latest health ministry statistics, some 3,857 housewives in the country are infected with the deadly virus, forming the biggest group of female victims out of a total of 10,228 female HIV carriers or patients. Most of them have got the infection from their husbands!
By comparison, only 621 infected with AIDS have been sex workers, barely a fifth of the number of infected housewives. The statistics also shows that 551 students and 730 military personnel are infected with the virus.
Since the first two housewives were found to have been infected with the virus in 1991, the number of infected housewives in the country has been on steady rise, reaching a cumulative total of 3,857 today.
For the first time the number of newly infected cases through heterosexual relationships has surpassed that of injecting drug users (IDUs). In 2012, 1,538 new cases have been from heterosexual relationships, surpassing for a second consecutive year the number of cases for IDUs at 1,014.
Malaysian AIDS Council exco member Dr Ilias bin Adam Yee said during an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily that overwhelming majority of Malaysians are heterosexuals, and the chances for HIV to transmit among heterosexuals have been rising over the years.
MAC policy manager Fifa Rahman said housewives are indeed at risk of HIV infection.
Women at risk
The cause for HIV infection among housewives could be because their husbands are either drug addicts or are infected through extramarital relationships, or the housewives themselves are drug users. However, due to incomplete data, it cannot be established whether these housewives have been infected through sexual intercourse or drug use.
Fifa said women remain very helpless in the securing their human rights, especially Malay women who are often submissive to their husbands, many even feeling embarrassed to ask their partners to use condoms.
Dr Ilias explained that the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) is very concerned about HIV infection, and the fatwa rules that it is acceptable for married couples to use condoms during sexual intercourse.
He said many people feel that they won't fall victim to HIV. "Unfortunately as we have seen, drug addiction is no more the biggest cause for HIV, but heterosexuality. There are far more heterosexuals in this country than drug addicts."
He urged the public to go for HIV screening once a year with their partners.
As for last year, the numbers of HIV carriers and infected people stood at 98,729 and 19,047 respectively. Nevertheless, the number of unidentified carriers could be a lot higher than the official figure.
Live like normal people
Studies show that HIV patients can live as long as ordinary people if they go for early treatment, which means, a person can live with the virus for the rest of his or her life and both can coexist peacefully until the end of life.
However, misunderstandings within the society have resulted in many HIV patients afraid or unwilling to face or accept treatment, and based on international statistics, this group of people could be more than double of health ministry's figures.
Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS (CERIA) clinical coordinator Dr Ilias Yee emphasized that HIV is not really that dreadful after all, and a HIV carrier can live like any ordinary people until 80 or 90 provided that he or she receives early treatment.
"Based on the current technology, appropriate treatment could help prevent HIV carriers from infection although we are still unable to get rid of the virus completely. Given appropriate treatment, HIV carriers can live like ordinary people, including getting married and having children.
Owing to the stereotypical impression of the society, many HIV carriers are afraid or unwilling to go for treatment. Dr Ilias told , based on international statistics, the number of unidentified HIV carriers could be more than double the official figure.
Malaysian AIDS Council president Datuk Dr Raj Abdul Karim said, AIDS is not just an infectious disease, it has evolved into a social issue. Since drug addiction is against the law in Malaysia, many drug addicts shy away from doctors such that HIV could not be effectively put under control.
"As such, decriminalizing drug addiction is essential."
Decriminalizing drug addiction
MAC policy manager Fifa Rahman felt that decriminalizing drug addiction could help the police divert part of its human resources elsewhere, such as snatch thefts.
She explained that decriminalizing drug addiction is not the same as legalizing drugs. Legalizing drugs means drugs can be used legally in the country, while decriminalizing drug addiction allows a person to use restricted amount of drugs without being criminalized.
Thanks to the government's Harm Reduction Program, injecting drug users are no longer the biggest HIV risk group.
Fifa explained that the program has enabled drug users to apply clean needle syringes and this is the most effective way of preventing the transmission of HIV among drug users at this moment.
Dr Ilias, who is currently serving at one of the CERIA treatment and care service centers, said, "Most of the patients have their own families and roofs over their heads. They are leading normal lives, two thirds of them working."
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