HIV cases among women rise

National 3 minutes, 42 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE percentage of new reported cases of HIV among women in Brunei Darussalam increased from 15 per cent to 37.5 per cent between 2008-2009 and 2010-2011.

More than one-third of newly reported HIV cases involve women and girls, according to The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, in its country brief report on affected women and girls in Brunei.

The majority of cases were due to unsafe heterosexual intercourse with infected partners.

Meanwhile, among the new HIV cases reported between 2010 and 2011, 40 per cent were married at the time of diagnosis. It was also noted that in 2011 Brunei recorded the first and only case of mother-to-child transmission since 1995.

According to the report, those affected included women and girls living with HIV, female intimate partners of men with high-risk behaviour and female migrant workers who may be vulnerable to HIV due to conditions by which they migrate.

With the rising number of HIV cases in the country, relevant authorities have striven to improve public access to health services, especially those involved in risky behaviour to get tested for HIV.

In terms of access to health services, the government provides free and comprehensive health care to all citizens and permanent residents of Brunei. This includes all aspects of prevention, care, treatment and support for HIV, although there is no separate budget specifically allocated for HIV/AIDS.

First-line antiretrovirals are readily provided to citizens and permanent residents. Although available, second- and third-line have to be applied for on an individual basis. According to the report, 17 adults and children with advanced HIV infection received antiretroviral therapy in 2010.

To minimise mother-to-child transmission, Brunei has compulsory antenatal screening for HIV for pregnant women. Dried Blood Spot technology is also available to detect viral genetic material during pregnancy, according to the report.

On the other hand, access to health for Brunei’s migrants and overseas workers is dependent on their work contract and permit.

Under the Infectious Disease Order 2003, it is compulsory for all clinicians to report positive cases to the Department of Health Services. The Infectious Disease Order 2003 also specifically protects the confidentiality of all persons who are diagnosed. The order also criminalises HIV transmission and exposure by HIV positive people.

UN Women’s country report on Brunei on HIV and key affected women and girls was developed by the Asia-Pacific Interagency Task Team on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV. The collected data is used to improve understanding of women and girls most at risk of, and most affected by, HIV in the region.

In an interview with The Brunei Times, Iswandy Ahmad, the president of the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council said it was important to empower women and girls with sexual reproductive knowledge.

“Biologically and culturally, women are more susceptible to HIV infection from men or their spouse who are infected with HIV. As HIV is transmitted from unsafe sexual relations, sharing infected syringes ... it is of vital for girls and women have access to correct information, accessible health services and are self-empowered.”

Iswandy added that men should also play their part in behaving responsibly to avoid infecting their female partners. He said that with more young women and girls attending full-time education to the highest level and building careers, (life-skills) education and policies should address the gender-specific needs of women, for example reproductive health.

“I call on all women to empower themselves with the correct knowledge and to behave responsibly – including men too. Authorities must have supporting policies on active involvement for women and young girls on issues as well as programmes on HIV and AIDS and reproductive health that affect them,” he said.

Iswandy added that the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council would be releasing the results of a preliminary survey on the public’s general knowledge and awareness of HIV/AIDS in Brunei Darussalam today. At the moment, there is virtually no data available on HIV knowledge and the vulnerability of the population in Brunei Darussalam, according to the report released by UN Women. There is a complete lack of data on risk behaviours among key population as well as among the general population, it added.

The recent survey by the council will help to formulate better strategies for effective HIV prevention . There are also plans by relevant authorities to initiate behavioural surveillance among youth and at schools over the next few years.

World AIDS day is observed annually on December 1.

The Brunei Times