In Malaysia, over half of all HIV infections are transmitted through sharing contaminated needles and syringes. To combat the spread of the epidemic, the government in 2006 spearheaded 'harm reduction' interventions (pdf) which included a program where people who inject drugs are provided unused needles and syringes in exchange for used injecting equipment. Those who are addicted to opioids such as heroin, the most commonly used illicit substance in Malaysia, can also enroll in rehabilitation for synthetic opioid replacement therapy. Synthetic opioids, taken orally, help stabilize the opioid cravings of patients, thus enabling them to work. The move to introduce harm reduction in Malaysia revealed something that caught people by surprise—many of the fishermen from port city on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia use drugs.
When I think of HIV/AIDs, symbols pop into my mind: the red looped ribbon and the free condom. They’re actually a good representation of what Thailand is doing best to combat the epidemic- massive information campaigns and the 100% Condom Program which saw the dramatic decline of HIV/AIDS among sex workers.
However, those symbols faded in my mind after I visited an old, impoverished part of Bangkok and met the people who currently are the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS- the injection drug users.
HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases are transmitted when needles are shared. Under influence, many users are also likely to have unprotected sex. There are programs called ‘harm reduction’ where drug users are provided with clean needles, syringes, and condoms to avoid transmission. Condom distribution is easy but needles are another issue.