Sarawak AIDS Concern Society sets the record straight

MOHAMED HASSAN/PIXABAY

The Sarawak AIDS Concern Society (SACS) would like to respond to an article published by Free Malaysia Today recently which was sensationalist.

The actual interview was extensively edited, omitting the important work done by the society in reducing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV in Sarawak. As a result, the SACS has received public criticism for being portrayed as supporting the sex industry.

The SACS is a non-profit organisation formed in 1998 under the recommendation of the Sarawak AIDS Network (SAN), comprising many government agencies including the Sarawak Health Department.

Its aim is to educate the public about the facts and myths regarding HIV/AIDS, to reduce the stigma attached to it, and to promote effective preventative measures in dealing with HIV/AIDS through non-judgemental, non-discriminatory and holistic approaches.

It is also a partner organisation of the Malaysian AIDS Council.

The society is governed by a group of executive committee members, comprising volunteers. In addition, a team of semi-volunteer outreach workers and caregivers conduct SACS activities.

Currently, two teams under the SACS serve the community: one team conducts a harm reduction programme by reaching out to clients from the key affected population (or high-risk group) while another team provides care and support for clients or people living with HIV.

As part of the harm reduction programme, funded through a grant from the Ministry of Health that is channelled through the Malaysian AIDS Council, SACS personnel conduct outreach work to the key affected population by raising awareness of HIV/AIDS and STIs while offering free community-based testing for HIV and syphilis.

The society works closely with government clinics and would refer the clients there for reconfirmation tests. Apart from face-to-face outreach work, the outreach workers of SACS link up to clients through social media.

In addition to the harm reduction programme, SACS has a care and support team at the Malaysian AIDS Foundation’s Teratak Kasih Tok Nan.

This team manages a halfway house for people living with HIV from within and outside Kuching who need a temporary place to stay when doing their follow-up treatment at the Sarawak General Hospital. The halfway house also provides food, transport subsidies and a monthly peer-support programme for the clients.

Apart from the two programmes above, the volunteers and staff of SACS also conduct HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to the public and at institutions of higher learning. SACS also provides free voluntary testing for HIV to the public.

As an organisation that takes a non-judgmental and non-moralistic position, the SACS withholds any judgemental opinion on all the key affected populations we serve.

As it is now, the stigma and discrimination by the community around us has complicated our work in reducing the transmission of HIV and other STIs within Sarawak.

The transmission of STIs can only be mitigated if society casts aside condescending views on the key affected population. This is so we can continue to screen them or any individuals who are at risk and refer those who are tested positive for treatment as soon as possible.

As well, stigma and discrimination had also compounded our effort in helping the people living with HIV who need care and support. Due to the negative views of the public, many of these people self-stigmatise and, as a result, some have doubts about their self-worth. Some are even afraid to seek treatment.

Studies and data have shown that people living with HIV are able to live like any other individuals as long as they adhere to the antiretroviral treatment regimen prescribed by the doctors.

We acknowledge that stigma and discrimination faced by our clients and by the SACS stem from a lack of understanding of HIV/AIDS and the nature of our work. Hence, the SACS strives to work harder in spreading awareness of HIV/AIDS and in educating the public on the importance of screening.

While it has been quite a lonely and bumpy ride for the SACS, we have been fortunate to have the support of the Malaysian AIDS Council, the Malaysian AIDS Foundation, the Ministry of Health, the Sarawak Health Department, the Kuching Division Health Office, other government agencies, our fellow NGOs, corporate bodies, our volunteers, staff and friends in ensuring that our fight against HIV/AIDS in Sarawak continues. We are truly grateful and thankful for your support.

The SACS will continue to face all the challenges in our stride, and we are committed to serving Sarawak and its community in our HIV/AIDS advocacy work. Fight the virus, not the people!

For enquiries about our work, please visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SarawakAIDSConcernSociety/ or e-mail us at sarawakaids@gmail.com

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