HIV infections among women in Malaysia are on the rise and more housewives than sex workers have been found to contract AIDS, according to a new report that has health planners worried.
With an average of 12 Malaysians testing positive for HIV daily, Malaysia has one of the fastest growing AIDS epidemics in the East Asia and Pacific region. What is more worrying is that the trend is gaining a feminine face, mainly through heterosexual transmission.
A new report released on Thursday by the Malaysian Health Ministry and United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has revealed that the trend of new HIV infections amongst women rose drastically to 16 per cent in 2007 from 1.2 per cent of total new cases in 1990.
"The proportion of women reported with HIV has increased dramatically in the last decade. In 1990, only one in every 86 new HIV infections was amongst women and girls. As of December 2007, it was one in six new infections," Sultanah Bahiyah Foundation chairperson Safinaz said at the launch of the "Women and Girls Confronting HIV and AIDS in Malaysia 2008" report.
"Shockingly, surveys show that in 2006 more housewives tested HIV positive than sex workers," Safinaz said, adding that there are thousands of children living in homes shadowed by HIV.
She said for families affected by HIV and AIDS, the disease itself does not have so much impact as it can be kept under control for many years with effective treatment, The Sun newspaper reported.
"The biggest impact comes from stigma. Mothers whose families are affected by HIV and AIDS are most frightened by the reactions from friends, extended family, colleagues and their communities," she said, citing the case of a shopkeeper in Kedah who refused to allow a woman with HIV to enter his shop.
Unicef representative in Malaysia Youssouf Oomar said empowering and encouraging women to be leaders in any HIV response must be the strategy of the future.
"Malaysia must ensure that gender equality and empowerment of women go hand-in-hand with HIV and AIDS prevention and care programmes," he was quoted as saying by the newspaper.