Monday, November 30, 2009
World AIDS Day in Kuala Lumpur
1st December, 2009 marks the 21st anniversary of World AIDS Day. The theme for World AIDS Day 2009 is "Universal Access and Human Rights". The theme was chosen to address the critical need to protect the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, and to lobby for all countries to remove laws that discriminate against people living with HIV/AIDS, women and marginalised groups.
Malaysian society has come a long way from the first year World AIDS Day was observed locally. Tremendous progress has been made in the treatment of HIV infection. However, efforts need to continue to ensure universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for all.
Among the activities organised by non-profit organisations, healthcare agencies and interest groups in Kuala Lumpur include the following:
1. Distributing red ribbons to members of the public, to remind them of their stake in providing protection and enabling access to healthcare, information, justice and opportunities for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS;
2. Poster and photo exhibitions;
3. HIV awareness sessions and dissemination of HIV/AIDS-related information and literature;
4. Health screenings and counselling services;
5. Outreach activities targetting people most at risk, such as intravenous drug users; and
6. Sports, games and activities for youth and children.
The PT Foundation, formerly known as the Pink Triangle Foundation, held its Red Ribbon Carnival at the Sungei Wang Plaza, Kuala Lumpur on Saturday and Sunday, 28th & 29th November 2009. As with the previous years, there were performances by local artistes, the distribution of red ribbons and leaflets, exhibitions, quizzes and surveys.
It is with regret that I report that I arrived at the Sungei Wang Plaza a little too late to catch the performances. I had been at the SPCA animal shelter the entire day, cleaning cages and kennels, and it was late when my buddy Nicole and I arrived at Sungei Wang. I had wanted to meet my comrades from PT Foundation and reminisce about the work we used to do as outreach volunteers.
The PT Foundation works with five vulnerable communities, namely:
1. Drug users;
3. Sex workers;
4. Men who have sex with men (MSM); and
5. People Living With HIV/AIDS.
I had opted to work with the PT Foundation while doing legal aid duty in 2004, as I realised that the aforementioned 5 groups are among the most marginalised and disenfranchised in the country. Of the five communities, I worked most closely with the transsexual community, which has its own drop-in centre in Chow Kit (which shares its premises with Positive Living, a halfway house for people living with HIV/AIDS), although occasionally, we would also spend some time at the Ikhlas Drop-In Centre for Drug Users in the same area.
In the evenings, the staff and I would carry out outreach work in the Chow Kit and Lorong Haji Taib area, distributing condoms and dispensing legal advice. Despite the misgivings of others around me, including other volunteer lawyers at the Bar Council Legal Aid Centre Kuala Lumpur, I still aver that I have never felt safer or more welcome in our world of traffic jams and burglar alarms than in the presence of my friends from these marginalised communities in the said areas. Until today, I cannot say for certain if I have ever rendered them any true service, but I know for a fact that I made some good friends.
(Note: The reason why I had to discontinue outreach work in 2006/2007 can be summed up in 2 words: Politics and Funding. Quelle surprise!)
PT Foundation's objectives, as listed in their official website, are as follows:
1. To help minimize the rate of infection of HIV/AIDS amongst the five target communities.
2. To help provide care and support and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS.
3. To help reduce discrimination against the five communities that is based on ignorance and lack of information.
Besides providing counselling and care to persons of concern, PT Foundation also conducts talks, seminars and educational and awareness campaigns, and works together with the authorities and law enforcement agencies to find durable solutions to problems involving vulnerable groups. The core communities manage their own safe spaces, including the drop-in centres and halfway homes mentioned above.
Contributions in cash to fund the projects and keep the safe spaces in operation are always welcome, as are contributions in kind (dry foods such as biscuits, tea and coffee, soap, shampoo, blankets, towels and even comic books and magazines). For further information, please contact PT Foundation to find out how you can support the noble work that they do:
Address: No. 7C/1, Jalan Ipoh Kecil, Off Jalan Raja Laut, 50350 Kuala Lumpur
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm, Monday-Friday (Except public holiday)
IKHLAS Drop-in Centre (Drug User Program)
Address: 30A-30B Lorong Haji Taib 4, Chow Kit, 50350 Kuala Lumpur.
Opening Hours: 9am-4pm, Monday-Friday (Except public holiday)
At a personal level, you can make a difference by pledging to do the following:
1. Lobby pharmaceutical companies to put their patents in the UNITAID patent pool to make HIV medication more affordable.
2. Get involved with local civil society campaigns.
3. Look beyond your own prejudices, and rid yourself of the "Us vs. Them" mentality. Remember that not everyone has had the opportunities and privileges that we have.
If we have the determination and commitment, each of us can be a mechanism of social change to assist and support the more vulnerable members of our society. This World AIDS Day, let us all take the lead in making HIV and AIDS seen, heard and attended to!