'Decriminalise drug use and we can stop spread of HIV'

The Malaysian Aids Foundation notes the importance of addressing the challenges of HIV openly irrespective of one's cultural and religious beliefs if the country is to succeed in preventing the transmission of the disease. For a start, authorities should target drug traffickers rather than users and adopt a more targetted approach to help the groups vulnerable to HIV.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia may have to decriminalise drug use if it wants to further prevent the spread of HIV, said Malaysian AIDS Foundation chairman Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman.

Doing this would encourage drug users to step forward to be tested and treated, she said.

"We need a more balanced approach to some of these challenges," she said at a press conference to announce the 7th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention 2013.

The event, which runs from Sunday to July 3, will gather scientists worldwide to share the latest findings on HIV/AIDS.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, a 2008 Nobel co-recipient for the HIV discovery, will lead the conference in finding a cure.

Dr Adeeba, the local co-chair and IAS 2013 director, said the authorities should target drug traffickers rather than users.

She said more work was needed to be carried out among men who had sex with other men as well as sex workers.

The relevant ministries needed to deal with the issues openly despite the cultural and religious challenges, she said.

"There are some difficulties about being open and discussing what needs to be done for these groups," she said.

Health Ministry senior principal assistant director HIV/STI Dr Anita Suleiman said Malaysia was on track to achieve the target for the Millennium Development Goals in bringing down new HIV infections.

She said the target was 11 per 100,000 population by 2015 but last year, Malaysia achieved 11.7 per 100,000, down from 22 per 100,000 in 2000, thanks to free treatment given by the Government.

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