Positive Living with HIV

Aids Awareness | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonrulkens

Aids Awareness | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonrulkens

In conjunction with Law Awareness Week form 9 October  to 16 October 2010, our Posters and Articles Committee was asked to cover various activities held by the Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Centre (LAC). The first activity was a Dialogue session with people living with HIV positive.

It was held on a late Saturday morning. I made my way to the Centre having been informed by Chitrah , the legal aid centre coordinator for this activity that the centre is located next to the Sony Building and it is near Tune Hotel. I took the monorail and alighted from Chow Kit monorail station and walked for 10 minutes till I reached Tune Hotel. I turned left at Tune Hotel and found Sony Building, only to be further lost.

Alas, I turned into a small  lorong and found where I had to be. The walk in Centre is tucked inside a small lorong next to Sony Building. No one would notice the entrance until you explore the neighbourhood in detail. I was greeted by Ms Pramo, a lawyer specializing in Family and Divorce Matters. She smiled a wide smile while sitting on a couch, waiting for the participants of the dialogue session to turn up. I told her I got lost finding the centre, she quipped, “Me too”. Soon, we began chatting about our profession and when did we started volunteering.  I asked where Chitrah was and Pramo told me she was in the room.

I found Chitrah, with Siti, a full time staff who assists in the day-to-day running of the centre. Another volunteer lawyer, Matthew Lee joined us.

The objectives of this dialogue with people living with HIV positive is to create awareness amongst the HIV positive walk-ins of their rights as “rakyats”. HIV infection is a taboo in this country. You are ostracized and segregated. However, not many are aware the basics of how the infection is spread/contracted. It is through sharing the same needles, unprotected intercourse and a HIV positive mother contracting it to an unborn child. The dialogue session started at one o’clock. We had about 20 participants with two children under the age of 10 years old accompanying their parents and three lawyers facilitating this dialogue.

Hands Into Shadow | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/huntz

Hands Into Shadow | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/huntz

Chitrah started off the session by introducing the lawyers present and the purpose of the dialogue session. Many of the participants were skeptical towards our presence if not for Siti who strongly reassured them that we are genuinely there to help. There was a somber atmosphere to the crowd that came in that afternoon. Siti started the ball rolling by telling her experience living with HIV positive and some of the challenges she faced as an employee. Soon, other participants began to open up.

A lethargic looking male participant named Hussin* shared his experience that happened 2 weeks ago. He told 19 people were arrested for suspicion of drug abuse at Chow Kit. They were brought to Balai Polis Dang Wangi and  were remanded for 12 days in total without being brought for a remand hearing. They were held up until their urine test results could be provided by the lab. Out of the 19 people, three were tested positive for drug abuse. Obviously, Hussin, our male participant, was one of the three people.

However, Hussin produced  a letter from  his doctor confirming that he is under “Stocrin” to the police officer. This is a drug used to treat HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection to reduce the amount of virus in the blood. It is used in combination with other appropriate medicines used to treat the HIV virus. The police officer that arrested him ignored the letter and kept him in remand for a few more days until LAC came and intervened in the situation. In the dialogue, Hussin* shared with us that the medication has to be taken once every 12 hours. It highlights the need for better informed police officers to be aware of such drug treatmemnt for HIV patients.

In this instance, I proposed to have dialogues with the police officers to be held at every balai polis.  Chitrah informed that this has been done. I further suggested that perhaps a circular of the drugs used to treat HIV/Aids could be circulated to the police departments so that duty officers are aware of such treatment using Stocrin, Methadone or other related HIV/Aids medication. Chitrah noted and concurred that further dialogues need to be held in various balai polis and suggested whether some participants could volunteer their time to participate in this dialogue with the police. Hence in future this could prevent unneccessary remands.

A participant then asked, “Can their employer perform HIV/Aids test on their employees without their employees’ knowledge?”

Pramo, one of the senior lawyers answered, “Doctors can take the test (HIV/Aids) but cannot reveal the results to the employers. They (doctors) would need firstly the authorisation or permission from the patient/employees.”

Having said that, there is still a lacuna in the law for HIV/Aids affected employees. Better employment law enforcement and protection is needed to protect the prospective employers and employees. A typical example is employers in the food/catering and food manufacturing industry. It is common practice to obtain a medical check-up on the potential employee before he/ she takes up employment. How can employers be protected without discriminating the HIV/Aids positive employees?

Credit: PT Foundation

Credit: PT Foundation

The dialogue ended at 14:15pm with lunch being served. The volunteers from the female sex workers prepared lunch.  After lunch, I took the chance to visit the third and fourth floor of the Pink Triangle Foundation premise. The third floor was occupied by female sex workers and fourth floor is occupied by the transgender group, while the fifth floor is occupied by people living with HIV/Aids positive and Directly Affected community.

Each floor is neatly kept and decorated with posters and banners about the centre. The centre opened in 2007 and is opened from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Friday close on public holidays and weekends. More information on what the Centre do and their objectives can be found at http://www.ptfmalaysia.org/index.php.

The Centre accepts walk-ins from People Living With HIV (PLHIV) and directly affected community such as PLHIV’s spouse, partner and family and provide para counseling and peer support group to share their experiences that they encounter as female sex workers, transgenders or PLHIV living with HIV/Aids positive.

The Centre is known as Pusat Bantuan Khidmat Sosial (PBKS) PT Foundation and it is a Smart Partnership between Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and PT Foundation. PT Foundation also is one of the Partner Organization under the Malaysia AIDS Council.

I managed to have a chat with Rozana, the Drop In Centre coordinator for Sex Workers programme. Pleasant and approachable lady, she briefed me how the centre works, the type of people who volunteers at the centre and shared stories of how some of their clients became volunteers of the centre. University students, students doing their internships and psychology students are the main type of people who volunteer their time at the centre. But the best news was of former clients who frequented the centre for counseling are now permanent volunteers of the centre.

After the chat, I complimented the chefs who prepared the lunch for us at the dialogue and went back to the fifth floor where the dialogue session was held. I said my “goodbyes” to Siti, Chitrah, Matthew and Pramo and the participants at the dialogue and left about three o’clock.

Sun blazing, me sweating in this humidity, now I have a report to write and to do justice to this Centre.

* names have been changed to protect identity of the person

This is Elena‘s first article on LoyarBurok. Applause! She tries to be an environmental activist and advocates government transparency. She contributes by writing to the papers and selling environmental awareness car stickers.


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6 Responses to Positive Living with HIV

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  4. I'm very sorry for these patients with HIV. Maybe you will find a cure for this disease?!

    • Ben

      Hope so too. but seems like they are not in hurry since this drug company sees this disease as a lucrative income for them.

  5. It is sad that the PLWH have to still hide in the dark rather than come out and speak of their lives and experiences, the way that breast cancer survivors are doing now. I hope this will change soon. Political change means nothing if there's no development in consciousness within the society.