BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Sixty two percent of the 265 HIV cases diagnosed in Brunei have occurred since 2014, indicating an overall increase in HIV contraction, said the minister of Health on Sunday.
Currently, there are 189 persons known to be living with HIV in Brunei, and a total of 56 people who have died from HIV/AIDS since 1986.
Speaking at an event held in conjunction with World AIDS Day, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar explained that men have been disproportionately affected by the disease, saying that men who have unprotected sex with other men, and with multiple partners, are at a higher risk of contracting HIV.
“We need more and better data on our key affected and high-risk populations, in order to ensure that we can reach out to them more effectively,” he said at a national HIV symposium for healthcare professionals.
The minister said Brunei’s health system ensures universal health coverage for all citizens and permanent residents, providing free and comprehensive healthcare that covers all aspects of prevention, care, treatment and support for HIV.
In 2016, Brunei also signed the ASEAN Declaration of commitment on HIV and AIDS.
The minister stressed there is a need to strengthen the reach and quality of healthcare for HIV/AIDS patients, which includes better coordination of preventative education, HIV testing, treatment and support services.
“Prevention interventions should be tailored for the various key affected populations, leveraging on the principles of [the country’s national philosophy] of Malay Muslim Monarchy.
“We should work more closely with colleagues from the Ministry of Religious Affairs in order to improve effective programming to achieve and sustain measureable results,” he said.
Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham added that Brunei should also expand efforts to provide a supportive environment to reduce stigma and discrimination towards HIV/AIDS patients, which leads to social isolation and mental health issues.
“Every December, we take time to affirm our collective solidarity with people living with, and affected by, HIV… [and] work towards the removal of all barriers to accessing HIV testing and reach out to people living with HIV to ensure that they are linked to quality healthcare services.
“If we can succeed in making testing and treatment available to all, a final end to HIV transmission and the reality of an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp.”
AIDS deaths globally have been significantly reduced over the past 10 years due to expanded access to antiretroviral treatment, allowing HIV patients to live near-normal lives with a normal life expectancy.
However, across the world there are still 37 million people living with HIV with an estimated 5.2 million in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Out of this number, it is estimated that a quarter of these people do not know that they have HIV.