KUALA LUMPUR. November 17 – It has been almost three years since Bakhtiar Talhah took the root of the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC).
Since then, the MAC president said things were moving in the right direction despite the constant battle to overcome stigma and discrimination about HIV in the country.
Bakhtiar, chief executive of an international nonprofit organization, said his team had raised some issues aggressively, mainly accelerated treatment in other states and accelerated to better understand HIV / AIDS in private institutions.
Despite positively, Bakhtiar acknowledged that the number of people infected or affected by the virus has seen a slight increase.
"We have seen major changes in these few years along with help and support from the Ministry of Health.
"However, the number is slightly rising, not worse, but because there are more people being tested.
"Our focus has been to get people to test and treat so I'm not too shocked by the growing number," he said Malay Mail in front of Malaysian AIDS Foundation Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Prize Gala Dinner 2018 December 16th.
He added that it was necessary to include private organizations to get the "masses" because it was the best way to raise awareness.
"Demographics of infected HIV / AIDS malaysians change. 18 to 40-year-olds are now the highest risk group.
"They are also at the peak of their career at the time, so it's important to work with these organizations."
Bakhtiar said there was much more to do in terms of scaling up the MAC services.
Among the ways he listed for Malaysia to deal with the disease was to provide Malaysia's basic education on the subject, testing, treatment and ensure that all infected patients undergo a proper control process.
"We have practiced a very individualized approach and our grassroots organizations work across the country, from Kedah to KL and even Sandakan."
He stressed that NGOs involve one of the main reasons for how awareness of HIV / AIDS has increased over the past three years.
"They are implementing the programs we have at MAC, and from morning to night they spend time searching for people who are still afraid or shy to come out," says the former MAC CEO.
Despite the increased efforts to raise awareness, Bakhtiar says that stigma is hard to run away from.
"Many have prejudices, fears or negative attitudes about HIV, and along with stigma.
"It causes groups of people to be insulted, gossiped, rejected and excluded from activities in a community or workplace."
He added that no one should be discriminated against and everyone must work to get rid of it.
"Being HIV positive and gay gives me another perspective on how I see things.
"But by the end of the day, all in Malaysia with HIV will meet stigma unfortunately, and it makes it difficult for us to perform our programs."
The 44-year-old was diagnosed when he was 21 years old, but had faced the disease head by getting the necessary information.
He also received support from family and friends.
"I still do not understand the ever-growing stigma of HIV," he said.
"It's much easier to live with than any other disease. All I do is take two pills a day and I do not wake up thinking in my head that I have HIV."
"I take my medication at 10 o'clock in the morning and that's it.
"It's much harder to even live with diabetes, for example, with the different treatments, medications or jabs needed during a 24-hour period."
It was recently reported that the MAI MAI collaborated with the Human Resources Department on policies to ensure that people with HIV / AIDS were not discriminated against in terms of employment.
Bakhtiar raised it as an important problem as most of the victims were from the 18 to 40 age group.
"Some have even fired their jobs after the news spread around their offices.
"With this new legislation in the store, we want Malaysians to know that employers are not entitled to fire anyone who has HIV. They can take drugs and work still."
He advised people living with HIV to try and create a good support system around them if they felt that stigmatization against them was too much.
"When I told some people I lived with HIV, not everyone stayed in touch.
"But I never let these things stop me, because I've always had this belief that if you can overcome stigma or discrimination, you've set a good example."
Malaysia, together with other countries, is working to end AIDS before 2030, and Bakhtiar pointed out that Malaysia, through its appearance, can improve the target.
"We have the right ingredients but now the goal is to find the perfect way to raise awareness and stop stigma.
"We, at MAC, have a role to play, especially to ensure that government policies are in line with what society is facing," he said.
Malay Mail is a media partner for Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Price Gala Dinner 2018.
Tables are in the following categories: Diamond (RM50,000); platinum (RM30,000) and gold (RM20,000). For more information, contact Nurshaliza Manaf at [email protected] or 014-504 8927 or Azahemy Abdullah [email protected] or 016-646 5874.