Fri, 05 Dec 2003

Greater efforts to battle AIDS

Barely 17 years ago, there were only three cases and one death. Now there are 57,000 sufferers -- the Council's chairman fears it may be even as high as 100,000 because of the large number of unreported cases -- and 6,000 fatalities. There was an all-time high of 7,218 new victims last year, but this unwelcome record is expected to be exceeded this year.

While these statistics are distressing enough, it is equally disturbing to note that while drug users are still the most infected group, heterosexual transmission has risen sharply -- 46 per cent last year. The Council's vice-president described this as "the link that will result in the spread of HIV to mainstream society".

Malaysia has reached a point where, according to a UN study, we could face a generalized epidemic within two years because not enough has been done. The fight against the disease seems to have been confined to NGOs with the support of the Health Ministry and minor contributions from some ministries.

The continuing widespread ignorance about HIV/AIDS and the unsafe sex practiced by sexually-active young Malaysians show that not enough effort has been made to raise awareness. It is time to put into action a national strategic plan to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS as advocated by the Malaysian AIDS Council. More ministries and government agencies should play an active role because, as the Council's chairman pointed out, NGOs alone can't tackle the problem.

More public figures should emulate Nelson Mandela and Bono and join the campaign against AIDS. On World AIDS Day on Monday, some countries which had previously ignored the scourge embarked on programs to prevent it from spiraling out of control. We will pay a heavy price if we continue to ignore the warning signs.

-- New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur