H.E. DATO' SERI
DEPUTY MINISTER OF HEALTH OF MALAYSIA
HEAD OF THE MALAYSIAN DELEGATION
TWENTY-SIXTH SPECIAL SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
WEDNESDAY, 27 JUNE 2001
My delegation congratulates the United Nations for convening this Special Session on HIV/AIDS which signifies the urgent nature of this pandemic. 70% of global adult HIV infection is due to heterosexual intercourse. Approximately a third occurs through mother-to-child transmission and a significant percentage through sharing of contaminated equipment by injecting drug users. Malaysia has not been spared. More than 40,000 cases of HIV/AIDS have been reported since 1986, and of these, almost 4000 have died. In recent years approximately 4000 more get infected annually. While most are injecting drug users we are also seeing an alarming rise in infections among women and children through heterosexual transmission. Thus Malaysia faces many challenges not just in prevention but also in the treatment, care and support of those infected.
2. A multisectoral approach in prevention, treatment, care and support is essential. For instance, in the area of prevention the government has limitations in reaching vulnerable communities. In this regard we support programmes undertaken by NGOs and community-based groups, including religious leaders, women, youth and People Living with HIV/AIDS. We encourage private sector involvement both in providing financial support for prevention, treatment and care programmes as well as in incorporating HIV/AIDS education in the workplace. In addition, other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Human Resources, the Ministry of Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Education, the Immigration Department and the National Drug Agency have on-going programmes that address HIV/AIDS issues in their own spheres of work.
3. The major barriers to prevention in Malaysia are gender inequities
and stigma and discrimination. As more women are becoming infected, many
by their own husbands, the need to empower them to protect themselves is
urgent. Recognising the risk of mother-to-child transmission, Malaysia
has, since 1998, instituted a voluntary antenatal screening programme and
provides zidovudine to HIV-positive mothers and their babies. Recently
the government has also started to provide free antiretroviral therapy
to the mothers as part of the continuum of care.
4. The stigma and discrimination attached to HIV/AIDS is however much more difficult to address but needs to be confronted. We recognize that more needs to be done to prevent discrimination against vulnerable groups and People Living with HIV/AIDS and we support NGO efforts in these areas. We are also consistently providing training to healthcare and other relevant personnel to minimize discrimination and enhance the quality of care to HIV infected individuals.
5. In terms of access to treatment, Malaysia is very concerned about
the disparities between North and South largely due to prohibitive prices.
This inequity is unjust and inhumane. We wish to reiterate our disappointment
at the existing barriers preventing the majority of HIV infected individuals
from obtaining equitable and affordable life-prolonging drugs. Access to
should not be restricted by trade and patent related issues. We very much hope that the Declaration of Commitment will redress this inequity so that deaths resulting from AIDS, and its impact on families and societies will be lessened, if not altogether prevented.
6. Although we are in agreement with much of the Declaration of Commitment, Malaysia is disappointed at the very low profile given to Asia and the Pacific where 60% of the world's population lives. While recognizing the magnitude of the African problem, the impending epidemic in Asia and the Pacific will far surpass anything previously seen if nothing is done today. It is our earnest hope that the proposed Global Health and AIDS Fund will be appropriately apportioned to ensure that this future disaster will be averted.
7. In Southeast Asia, where there are nearly 2 million People Living with HIV/AIDS, the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are already taking steps to ward off that dark future. Upon the initiative of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the ASEAN Heads of Government will meet in November this year in Brunei Darussalam to jointly address region-specific HIV/AIDS issues. We hope that such commitment at the highest political level will provide leadership within our countries and in the region. This, we trust, will illustrate what can be achieved when countries work together to address an issue of mutual concern.