Communities make the difference

In conjunction with the World AIDS Day 2019, Member of the Legislative Council and President of Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council (BDAIDSCouncil) Yang Berhormat Iswandy bin Ahmad, in a message, highlighted the importance of the public’s support to the AIDS response.

“Community-led organisations including organisations by and for people living with HIV or tuberculosis, and organisations by and for people affected by HIV, make an invaluable contribution to the AIDS response.

“This community leads and supports the delivery of services, defend basic human needs and, support their peers. Communities are the lifeblood of an effective AIDS response and an important pillar of support, which is why ‘Communities make the difference’, is chosen globally as the theme for World AIDS Day 2019.

“According to UNAIDS, in 2018, there are 37.9 million people globally living with HIV, and around 79 per cent of all people living with HIV knew their HIV status. AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by more than 55 per cent since the peak in 2004, and AIDS-related mortality has declined by 33 per cent since 2010.

“Though there is still no cure, there are medications and treatment that allow people living with HIV to live near normal lives with a normal life span provided they are detected early. Knowing your status not only allows for early treatment and better prognosis, but it also prevents a person living with HIV from transmitting HIV to others.

“Data from many countries show that prevalence of HIV in members of key populations, including transactional sex, people who inject drugs, prisoners, and men who have sex with men (MSM), and their sexual partners are still higher than in the general population.

“Statistics from the Ministry of Health show the number of HIV affected persons in Brunei Darussalam is averaging approximately 30 a year between 2015-2017.

“These figures heterosexual transmission between men and women and also MSMs. Brunei Darussalam has also seen a shift in the epidemic to a disproportionately higher number of new infections diagnosed among MSMs. We call out everyone to know their own status by getting tested at the nearest health centres.

“Providing facilities for testing, however, is not enough. There should be appropriate and non-judgmental messaging which encourage testing aimed at key affected persons.

“Facilities and their health staff should be respectful, non-discriminatory and impartial to avoid discouraging people to present for testing; and the confidentiality of a person’s status is maintained once it is known. Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV by healthcare providers is a well-documented phenomenon and is entrenched in fear and lack of adequate HIV knowledge.

“On this World AIDS Day, BDAIDSCouncil would like to encourage anyone who feel that they have put themselves at risk, to know their status, and seek HIV testing. Confidential testing involves a simple blood test that is available in most health facilities. If you’re uncomfortable going to a government health facility, Jerudong Park Medical Centre and Panaga Health Centre provide voluntary confidential counselling and testing.

“Knowing your HIV status will empower you to make the right decisions with regards to your sexual health and protect your future. If you find out that you are infected with HIV, you can seek medical care quickly and every step is made to ensure that your status remains confidential.

“Recognising that the HIV epidemic in Brunei is largely in local men and the urgent need for more testing to be done in key affected populations, BDAIDSCouncil are pleased to announce that a programme early next year looking at providing free voluntary on-the-spot tests for local men.

“BDAIDSCouncil also joined forces with the Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Centre to organise a forum on HIV in the workplace called ‘Fit or Unfit for work?’. It is hoped that this forum will shed some light on how persons living with HIV are still able-bodied and productive workers in helping the community to grow.

“We would also like to thank the Government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam for the support and assistance in allowing us to continue our HIV advocacy work, our various donors, supporters and partners be it from companies, educational institutions, community leaders, media agencies and volunteers.

“A special mention to the volunteers and their families in Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, including our youth division, the Penyinar Club, who have given their support, ideas, effort, time and even donations to help Brunei Darussalam’s society in raising awareness on HIV and AIDS.

“Contact us on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) on #BDAIDSCouncil #communitiesmakethedifference or drop us an email at [email protected] and let’s discuss and take action on how together we can play our part.”