Study: Stigma towards people living with HIV still an issue in Malaysia, 88pc do not disclose status because of this

·3-min read
Stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV still remain a pressing issue for people living with HIV in Malaysia.  —  AFP pic
Stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV still remain a pressing issue for people living with HIV in Malaysia. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 — People living with HIV (PLHIV) in Malaysia are still facing discriminatory remarks despite ongoing awareness efforts over the past few decades.

A recent study by Universiti Sains Malaysia student development affairs and alumni deputy vice-chancellor Prof Dr Azlinda Azman showed that many PLHIV were still facing personal discriminatory experiences.

The study, titled Stigma and Discrimination: Malaysia Stigma Evaluation Survey 2021, conducted a survey among 1,107 PLHIV to establish baseline data on stigma and discrimination experienced by the community.

As a result, 32 per cent of the respondents said they had discriminatory remarks made against them due to their status.

The study also found that 14 per cent of the respondents had their employment application rejected due to their HIV status, while 13 per cent said they were reassigned to other tasks or denied promotion.

According to the study, 12 per cent of the participants said they have been excluded from social gatherings and events due to their HIV status.

“The stigma and discrimination have also affected the family members of the PLHIV as 10 per cent of them said their partner was the subject of discriminatory remarks,” said Dr Azlinda during her presentation at a webinar titled “Updates on HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination in Malaysia”.

The webinar was jointly organised by the Health Ministry and the Malaysian AIDS Council to highlight the pressing issues surrounding HIV-related stigma and discrimination in Malaysia.

Referring to the findings from the survey, Dr Azlinda said the stigma and discrimination have led many PLHIV to hide their status after knowing they are positive.

“Some 88 per cent of the respondents said they decided to hide their HIV status from others because they found it difficult to disclose it.

“Between 55 and 72 per cent of the participants also said they felt worthless, ashamed and guilty after finding out about their HIV status.”

In regards to human rights, Dr Azlinda said only 35 per cent of the respondents were aware of rights that protect them.

“About 65 per cent of them were not aware of laws that protect PLHIV.

“Based on the survey, 42 per cent of the participants said they take it upon themselves to provide support for each other to deal with the stigma and discrimination.”

In conclusion, Dr Azlinda said the study showed that PLHIV still face discrimination in Malaysia although the incident rate is not alarming in the country.

To break the stigma, she said more psychosocial support, including peer-to-peer support groups, network building and counselling for their partner was needed.

“We also need to empower PLHIV to understand and assert their basic human rights.

“We also need to develop a system to measure stigma and discrimination using standardised measures or tools to monitor, address and evaluate the progress over time.

Infectious disease expert and Malaysia AIDS Council president Datuk Dr Christopher Lee acknowledged that the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV still existed in Malaysia.

He added that although the stigma had reduced over the past few decades, there were still reports that such discrimination left a negative impact on PLHIV.

“The fear of stigma and discrimination is the primary cause of why many people living with the virus are reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status and even hesitant to seek treatment.

“It has been acknowledged all across the world that the stigma and discrimination are major contributors that lead to death as it prevents PLHIV to reach out and seek treatments.”

Dr Lee said it was disappointing to see such incidents, especially now that treatment was widely available, acceptable and accessible.

“Therefore, we need to address the issues of stigma and discrimination very seriously.”

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