PETALING JAYA: Efforts to end AIDS globally by 2030 will be more difficult now with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, says International AIDS Society president Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman.
Speaking at a media briefing about the impact of Covid-19 on the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Southeast Asia, Adeeba noted that Malaysia had already been struggling before the pandemic, with an increase in HIV cases in 2019.
“The longer the pandemic drags, the riskier it is for non-Covid-related missions, including HIV,” said the professor of medicine at Universiti Malaya.
She said this was because global attention had shifted towards Covid-19, which meant possible budget cuts due to the affected economy.
This would also make it difficult to introduce new HIV programmes and expand outreach of self-testing or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication to prevent those at risk of HIV from being infected.
“Those of us who are working in the Covid response are the same people who are working in the HIV response, by and large, typically on the clinical side. All of us are getting exhausted as the days go on,” she added.
The health ministry’s national strategic plan to end AIDS involves achieving a “95-95-95” target, where 95% of key populations are tested for HIV and know their results, 95% of HIV-positive patients are placed on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 95% of them are adhering to treatment.
Adeeba also said Malaysia had seen a decrease in HIV testing as fewer people came forward due to movement restrictions and the fear of contracting Covid-19 outside.
However, she noted that community partners and outreach workers had managed to increase self-testing facilities and continue with the health ministry’s Needle and Syringe Exchange Programme.
In terms of ART, she said, clinics were quick to respond by making use of telemedicine and dispensing medicine for more than a month.
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