BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Bruneians can get free HIV testing at seven private clinics throughout the month of December, the health minister announced in a move aimed at preventing the disease from spreading through early detection.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said HIV testing is available for citizens and permanent residents aged 16 and above, as part of an expanded screening programme beyond public health facilities.

Individuals who take the rapid HIV test will be able to receive results in just 15 to 20 minutes, the minister said at a press conference to mark World AIDS Day on Thursday.

The participating clinics are Ammaan Medical Clinic, C.Y Lim Clinic, Dr Prema Clinic, Riverview Medical Clinic, Vitaliv Health and Wellness Clinic, Wholistica Clinic and Wellness, and Panaga Health Centre.

Those who have tested positive for HIV will be referred to the health ministry’s Disease Control Division for confirmation and treatment.

While there is currently no cure for HIV, the minister said HIV patients can be treated using anti-retroviral therapy to increase their life expectancy and reduce their risk of transmitting the disease.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said 58 percent of people who took the therapy in Brunei have managed to decrease their viral load to a very low level and prevent them from infecting others.

Brunei reported a record-high 42 HIV cases last year, of which 98 percent were men. The majority of patients were aged 20 to 34.

A total of 289 Bruneians and permanent residents had been diagnosed with HIV since Brunei started recording the number of cases in 1986. Of that total number, 75 percent are still living with HIV.

Brunei administers about 200,000 medical tests every year, including HIV testing for expectant mothers and prospective foreign workers.

The free HIV screening programme is conducted in collaboration with the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council to improve the control of the disease.

President of Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council YB Iswandy Ahmad said the success of its pilot HIV screening programme led the NGO to work with the health ministry to improve access to HIV testing.

He said more than 100 HIV tests were conducted during the pilot scheme, which started earlier this year.

“The participating clinics have been trained to provide an open and non-judgemental environment for those who wish to take the HIV test,” said YB Iswandy, who joined the health minister at the press conference.

He added that intervention programmes such as HIV testing should be combined with AIDS and HIV education.

“Reproductive health education can raise awareness on sexually transmitted infections, gender-based violence, healthy relationships and other health aspects,” YB Iswandy said.