Rise in HIV cases, says minister

James Kon

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar highlighted the increasing number of HIV cases in Brunei Darussalam during the launching of the ‘Implications of HIV in the Workplace’ forum yesterday, to mark the World AIDS Day 2019.

From 1986 to 2018, 247 citizens and permanent residents of Brunei Darussalam were diagnosed with HIV.

From the total number, 191 or 77 per cent are still living with HIV.

The highest number of reported HIV cases was 41 in 2018, with 93 per cent being males (38 cases) and 32 per cent (13 cases) involved patients aging from 25 to 29.

The minister said that the majority of the cases were due to unsafe behaviour.

“If this matter is not addressed immediately, it is feared that the number of HIV cases will further increase, which will defeat the country’s goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030.”

He then called for HIV screenings, along with preventive education and practices, to be strengthened and maintained, particularly among high-risk groups.

“HIV infection can actually be treated, and people living with HIV receiving ART (antiretroviral therapy) treatment at this time can reduce the risk of infecting others.

“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), with recent advances in health and medicine, 79 per cent of people living with HIV are estimated to have understood their HIV risk, 62 per cent are estimated to have received ART treatment and 53 per cent are estimated to have successfully limited the HIV virus until there is no risk of infecting others.”

“Between 2000 and 2019, HIV infections were reduced by as much as 37 per cent and deaths from HIV infection have fallen by as much as 45 per cent; thus, 13.6 million lives were saved through ART treatment.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar speaks at the event. PHOTO: BAHYIAH BAKIR

“This achievement has reflected the success of collaboration by government agencies in countries with the support of their local community groups and international development partners,” said the minister.

“We are truly blessed in this country; we have health facilities through health centres and hospitals across the country, to detect HIV infection and provide ART treatment that can prevent replication and spread of the infection,” he added.

“Although ART treatment may not completely cure the infection, it can strengthen the immune system of the patient against other infections and enable the patient to enjoy a normal life.

“If an individual receives early examination, treatment can be carried out as soon as possible, to stop the HIV infection and increase the opportunity and possibility of the person to carry on living his or her normal life.”

The minister also said that family members, social networks and co-workers, along with members of religious and recreational organisations, play an important role in curbing stigma and discrimination.

“We all have a role to play to make sure that stigma and discrimination on people who have HIV will not happen, and eradicated at homes, schools, workplaces or public areas,” he said.

“This can be achieved by equipping ourselves with the correct information on HIV and the issues related to it, so that we can better understand and know, as well as provide assistance and support to people with HIV,” the minister added.

He extended his appreciation for the contribution and support provided by the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council (BDAIDSCouncil), as a strategic partner of the Ministry of Health in its continuing efforts to educate the public and provide support for people living with HIV.

“As an entity operating at the community level, the BDAIDSCouncil is positioned to better understand and influence the local community with its activities,” said the minister.

“However, preventive steps is still the main focus of the Ministry of Health in overcoming HIV infection.

“I hope and stress that NGOs like the BDAIDSCouncil and community groups, or youth, to continue spreading the message and information on the prevention of HIV infection.”