All parties need to join forces in HIV eradication

James Kon

“In eradicating HIV infection among the local community and to achieve the target of eliminating AIDS in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030, all relevant stakeholders, including government and non-government agencies, community groups and grassroots, need to work together and provide support to make sure that the available facilities are being fully utilised by those who need it without discrimination, while being implemented in a protected and confidential manner. This is reinforced by the evidence that the given treatment can prevent the spread of infection, as well as extend the life expectancy of HIV patients.”

This was said by Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar, during yesterday’s launch of the ‘Expanded HIV Testing Programme at Private Clinics’ initiative for World AIDS Day.

“At present, there is no cure or vaccine for HIV, but patients can be treated using anti-retroviral therapy (ART), which can help them to lead healthier lives and boost their life expectancy, as well as reducing the risk of HIV transmission or preventing them from transmitting it to others,” he said.

The minister added, “In Brunei Darussalam, 85 per cent of HIV patients have undergone ART treatment. Out of those, 58 per cent have successfully inhibited the replication of the HIV virus within their bodies to a very low level (viral suppression), until they no longer pose a risk of transmission to others.”

From 1987 up to the end of 2019, 289 local citizens and permanent residents were diagnosed with HIV. Out of that number, 218 or 75 per cent are still living with HIV.

The highest number of cases reported was 42 in 2019, of which 98 per cent were male and the majority aged between 20 to 34 years.

“Among the provided services are HIV test screenings for pregnant mothers, employment applications and blood donation screenings. They are also accessible to individuals who wish undergo screening to learn their HIV status.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar. PHOTOS: JAMES KON

“Alhamdulillah, under 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, the cost of treatment for HIV infection is free for all citizens and permanent residents of Brunei Darussalam.”

“World AIDS Day, which is celebrated worldwide annually on December 1, to raise awareness on HIV preventive measures and treatments towards ending AIDS as a threat to public health by 2030, is also a platform for all relevant parties to renew their commitment and determination in the joint enhancement of efforts in addressing HIV infection and AIDS.

“Having existed for over 30 years, HIV and AIDS are among the infectious diseases which remain a public health issue around the world. According to the World Health Organization, HIV has affected more than 75 million people and claimed the lives of 32 million people globally, since the start of the outbreak.

“In 2019, 1.7 million cases of new HIV infections were recorded; and it is estimated that as many as 38 million people are living with HIV, while 690,000 deaths from AIDS were reported. However, with advances in health and medicine today, the rate of new infections and deaths due to HIV are on the decline.

“Compared to the global HIV/AIDS situation in the early years of this century, a report from Joint United Nations programme on AIDS/HIV (UNAIDS), said that the number of new HIV infections has declined by 23 per cent, from 2.1 million in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2019.

“In addition, deaths from AIDS have dropped by 39 per cent, from 1.1 million in 2010 to 690,000 in 2019. This achievement reflects the success of joint endeavours among government agencies in countries around the world, with the support of local communities and also international partners

“I sincerely hope and recommend that NGOs, such as the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council and other community groups or youth groups, will continue to spread the message and information on HIV prevention, as well as the importance of early testing and treatment.

“Insya Allah, with a strategy that covers various approaches from preventive measures, the provision of testing services, counselling and treatment, as well as the involvement of partners and other stakeholders, Brunei Darussalam will be able to jointly achieve the goal of eradicating the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“I would also like to express my sincere appreciation and congratulations to the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, for their ongoing initiative in raising awareness on HIV infection and reducing the stigma, as well as preventive and treatment measures towards eradicating AIDS in Brunei Darussalam.”