Malaysian Health Minister Considering Program to Provide Free Needles, Condoms to Injection Drug Users to Reduce HIV Spread
June 3, 2005
Malaysian Health Minister Chua Soi Lek on Thursday said he is considering initiating a six-month pilot program that would distribute hypodermic needles and condoms to 1,200 injection drug users at no cost at 10 government clinics and 10 private clinics nationwide to reduce the spread of HIV, Malaysia's Sun reports (Sun, 6/2). Chua said statistics released last year showed that there are 61,486 HIV-positive people in Malaysia and that 75% of those people are injection drug users (Agence France-Presse, 6/2). In addition, it has been projected that there will be 300,000 HIV-positive people and one million injection drug users in Malaysia by 2015, according to the Sun. Chua cited a 1998 study of 26 drug rehabilitation centers in the country that showed that 65% of the patients at the centers were injection drug users and that 77% of that group shared needles with more than five people. In addition, the study found that 77.6% of the injection drug users were sexually active and only 18.7% of those who were sexually active used condoms. Chua also cited studies that show needle-exchange programs can reduce the spread of HIV among injection drug users. Chua said the pilot program -- which would begin in October -- would be a "clinical and medical initiative," adding, "Morally, we're neutral" (Sun, 6/2). Chua urged Malaysian political parties and nongovernmental groups not to "exploit the plan for their own agenda," according to Xinhua News Agency. "It has nothing to do with politics but for the interests of HIV sufferers and to protect Malaysia's image," Chua said (Xinhua News Agency, 6/2). Abeeba Kamarulzamam, acting president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, called the plan a "major step for Malaysia," adding, "There will be a negative reaction from the community and the public, but I think our job will be to explain misconceptions and misunderstandings" (Agence France-Presse, 6/2).
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