‘Right to Health’ key to check HIV infections

|     Message by YB Iswandy bin Ahmad, President, Brunei Darussalam Aids Council     |

AS WITH every December 1, we have been given the opportunity to raise awareness on key HIV issues of our time.

According to UNAIDS, there are 36.7 million people globally living with HIV with an estimated 5.1 million in the Asia-Pacific region. In our region, 270,000 new infections have been recorded, with a decline of 13 per cent between 2010 and 2016. With only 47 per cent of affected people on antiretroviral treatment in the region, a lot still needs to be done before we can come close to ending this epidemic. Antiretroviral treatment not only ensures that people living with HIV can live a long and normal life, but early diagnosis and treatment also means preventing new infections.

Data from many countries show that there is a prevalence of HIV in members of key populations compared to the general population, including those who indulge in transactional sex, people who inject drugs, prisoners, and men who have sex with other men, as well as their sexual partners.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health (MoH) have shown that there has been a significant increase in the annual number of new cases recorded per year in Brunei Darussalam since 2013. Between 2011 and 2015, there were a total of 77 new HIV infections in the local population. Last year, on December 1, MoH reported 34 new HIV infections in 2016 alone. This figure included heterosexual transmission between men and women, and also men who have sex with other men (MSM).

Although heterosexual transmission is dominant, it is important to note that as with most parts of the world, there is a disproportionately higher number of new infections diagnosed among MSMs. It’s also important to note that the number of women who have been infected have also been increasing in the past few years. This rise could be attributed to an increase in risky behaviours, particularly unprotected sex with multiple partners. This increase in numbers could also be attributed to greater awareness and increased testing.

This is why this year’s theme ‘Right to Health’ is so important. The ‘Right to Health’ is not only for a person to be able to have access to health services and medicines; but that they are able to prevent ill health; that healthcare services are respectful and non-discriminatory; and that healthcare must be medically appropriate and of good quality. By ensuring that all of this is achieved, we can obtain our goal of preventing new infections and assuring that those who are living with HIV are detected and treated early. Research has shown that people living with HIV (PLHIV) can live a normal life span with treatment, just like those with any other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension, and are still able to contribute to society like everyone else.

Therefore, besides the right to health, PLHIV also have the right to work and support themselves and their family. HIV status should not prevent a person to seek employment or limit their career prospects. We are calling for employers to not discriminate any of their workers or potential workers based on their HIV status.

Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council would also like to call on those who feel that they have put themselves at risk, to seek HIV testing. Confidential testing involves a simple blood test that is available at all government health centres and clinics as well as private health facilities. 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.

As of November 29, there are 202 persons known to be living with HIV in Brunei Darussalam, and 27 new cases among locals have been reported. All cases reported were males. In terms of mode of transmission, sexual transmission remained as the most common mode of transmission whereby 10 cases were due to same-gendered relations and nine out of 27 cases were through heterosexual relations. Among the age groups, majority of cases reported were among the 20-24 age range. Only two new TB-HIV cases were reported to date.

For this World AIDS Day, we would 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, and also to our various donors, supporters and partners, be it from companies, educational institutions, community leaders, media agencies and volunteers.

Contact us on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) on #BDAIDSCouncil #myrighttohealth, or drop us an email at penyinarbdac@gmail.com and let’s discuss and take action on how we can play our part together.