The #Some­bodyLikeMe World AIDS Day cam­paign hopes to create on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tions about HIV/AIDS.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - allther­age@thes­ By SHARMILA NAIR

RIZAL (not his real name) has been sex­u­ally ac­tive since he was 19. He has had mul­ti­ple part­ners and it was only two years ago that he learned about the con­dom and its use in pre­vent­ing sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases. By then, he had al­ready been di­ag­nosed as HIV pos­i­tive.

“I have seen con­dom pack­ages on sale and won­dered how they were used, but I didn’t think that I would be need­ing them for my life­style. The pos­si­bil­ity of con­tract­ing HIV was the last thing on my mind,” said 33-year-old Rizal who was di­ag­nosed with the virus in 2011.

And the only rea­son Rizal even took the HIV test was be­cause a doc­tor sug­gested it af­ter his chronic bouts of cough con­tin­ued for sev­eral months. Oth­er­wise, he would not have even con­sid­ered it.

“I thought that I had tu­ber­cu­lo­sis but the doc­tor had dif­fer­ent news for me. He told me I was HIV pos­i­tive and I couldn’t be­lieve it. I didn’t think that it would af­fect some­one like me – a reg­u­lar joe,” said Rizal who is cur­rently a fa­cil­i­ta­tor with PT Foun­da­tion, a com­mu­nity based non­profit mak­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vid­ing HIV/AIDS ed­u­ca­tion and sup­port pro­grammes.

De­spite ac­cept­ing his cur­rent con­di­tion, Rizal wishes that he had known more about HIV/AIDS when he was younger and be­lieves that per­haps ad­e­quate knowl­edge on the sub­ject would have pre­vented him from con­tract­ing the virus.

“In school, I learned about the re­pro­duc­tive sys­tems and lit­tle bit on HIV. What they didn’t tell me was that it could hap­pen to any­one ... that it could hap­pen to me,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the sta­tis­tics pro­vided by the Min­istry of Health, the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV (PLHIV) in Malaysia last year was es­ti­mated at 81,209. In 2012, 3,438 new cases were re­ported and 31% of the new in­fec­tions hap­pened to those aged 13 to 29.

One of the main rea­sons for the in­crease in new HIV cases is a lack of aware­ness on the topic, de­spite the dis­ease be­ing dis­cussed for over 30 years now.

“There is a grow­ing per­cep­tion among youths that HIV/AIDS will never hap­pen to them. They are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly non­com­mu­nica­tive on the sub­ject and

this si­lence can ham­per out­reach ef­forts to raise aware­ness on the is­sue,” said PT Foun­da­tion act­ing ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Ray­mond Tai.

He added that more of­ten than not, it is only when a per­son is infected, or af­fected, that he or she starts ed­u­cat­ing them­selves on the is­sue.

“But the ed­u­ca­tion should be­gin ear­lier and it should be on-go­ing, to pre­vent one be­ing infected or af­fected in the first place,” said Tai.

Reach­ing out to youths

Alarm­ingly, 129 youths be­low the age of 19 were infected with the virus last year in Malaysia. They are now part of the es­ti­mated 34 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing with HIV around the world. It is also un­nerv­ing to note that AIDS has be­come the se­cond most com­mon cause of death among 20- to 24-year-olds world­wide. “The big­gest mis­con­cep­tion about HIV/ AIDS is that most young peo­ple think that it only hap­pens to ‘other peo­ple’. We call this the ‘Not-Me-Syn­drome’,” said Tai.

In a bid to dis­prove the mis­con­cep­tion, Durex Malaysia, in part­ner­ship with PT Foun­da­tion and AIESEC Malaysia, has launched #Some­bodyLikeMe – a so­cial me­dia cam­paign aimed at en­cour­ag­ing and nor­mal­is­ing HIV/AIDS-re­lated con­ver­sa­tions as well as em­pow­er­ing youths to make a stand to­wards a HIV/AIDS­free so­ci­ety.

“De­spite the alarm­ing fig­ures, it is dis­con­cert­ing to note that many young peo­ple are not equipped with suf­fi­cient knowl­edge and feel that HIV/AIDS is ir­rel­e­vant to them.

“#Some­bodyLikeMe seeks to chal­lenge and re­but these pre­sump­tions as HIV/AIDS does not dis­crim­i­nate and can in­fect or af­fect any­one, in­clud­ing ‘some­one like me’,” said Reckitt Benckiser Malaysia & Sin­ga­pore mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Ab­hishek Chuckar­butty.

The cam­paign has en­listed sev­eral prom­i­nent so­cial in­flu­encers to share their voice and sto­ries on­line to spark the con­ver­sa­tions on­line as well as to ig­nite change. Among the lo­cal so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers who have lent their sup­port to the cam­paign are Datin Paduka Ma­rina Ma­hathir, Niki Cheong, Joe Lee (aka Klub­bKidd KL), Karena Cheow, Au­drey Pui Yan, Hanie Hi­dayah and Christo­pher Tock.

Dig­i­tal me­dia con­sul­tant Niki Cheong said: “HIV/AIDS is pre­ventable, yet even af­ter all this time we have been un­able to re­v­erse the num­ber of in­fec­tions in most parts of the world. When it comes to sex – which is the core part of the mes­sage of this World AIDS Day cam­paign – there are still many cases where peo­ple are ig­no­rant, com­pla­cent or worse, don’t re­ally care.

“In Malaysia, in par­tic­u­lar, we don’t have sex ed­u­ca­tion in schools and so, we need to have ef­fec­tive cam­paigns to spread aware­ness on the HIV/AIDS is­sue.”

The so­cial in­flu­encers have al­ready started the all-im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion on­line, ac­tively com­mu­ni­cat­ing on so­cial me­dia with their fol­low­ers about is­sues sur­round­ing HIV/AIDS us­ing the hash­tag #Some­bodyLikeMe and en­gag­ing them to speak freely about it with their own peers.

Get­ting it right

Ed­u­ca­tion is key in erad­i­cat­ing HIV/AIDS and Lai be­lieves that young Malaysians are not equipped with ad­e­quate knowl­edge re­gard­ing the is­sue.

“They think that only ‘ im­moral peo­ple’ – like drug users or sex work­ers – get infected. The other mis­con­cep­tion is that you can tell who is HIV-pos­i­tive, so some­one who looks good and healthy could not have the HIV virus in them,” said Tai.

He also added that most youths be­lieve they wouldn’t con­tract the virus if they only have sex with one part­ner. “They think that it’s all right to not use a con­dom if they only have sex with their boyfriend or girl­friend.”

In 2011, 83% of HIV in­fec­tions among Malaysian women oc­curred through un­pro­tected het­ero­sex­ual en­coun­ters. These fig­ures only show that many young peo­ple are still in the dark when it comes to sex and do not have the nec­es­sary knowl­edge be­fore pur­su­ing an ac­tive sex life.

“Young Malaysians have been con­di­tioned to re­frain from talk­ing about sex. Even if they do, it is at a gen­eral level. Few young peo­ple ad­mit that they are sex­u­ally ac­tive let alone talk about it,” said Tai.

Hence Tai be­lieves that youths should “be able to have frank con­ver­sa­tions with their part­ners be­fore en­gag­ing in sex and con­tin­u­ously have open dis­cus­sion” about the sub­ject.

“I hope that young peo­ple will start talk­ing about things that, in my opin­ion, they should be dis­cussing in schools al­ready. They need to have own­er­ship of their bod­ies and ed­u­cate them­selves so that they can make in­formed decisions.

“It is not just about want­ing sex and be­ing safe but ab­sti­nence as well. But this has to be the in­di­vid­ual’s choice and I hope that the con­ver­sa­tions this cam­paign starts will con­trib­ute to this aware­ness,” said Cheong.

Speak­ing up

Al­though the cam­paign aims to ed­u­cate young peo­ple on the is­sues re­gard­ing HIV/AIDS, Cheong be­lieves that it could be used as an op­por­tu­nity for adults to get in­volved, start lis­ten­ing to our youths and em­power them to make the right and in­formed decisions.

“I think adults in gen­eral don’t give enough credit to young peo­ple so this is their op­por­tu­nity to show that they know what they’re talk­ing about and to ask ques­tions about things they are un­sure of. This cam­paign is of­fer­ing a plat­form for young peo­ple to do just that,” said Cheong.

Youths have to arm them­selves with the right knowl­edge, to take charge and be re­spon­si­ble and Tai be­lieves that with enough en­cour­age­ment, young peo­ple could help erad­i­cate HIV/AIDS in the years to come.

“We have ac­knowl­edged there are many chal­lenges that have ham­pered the fight against HIV/AIDS; in­ad­e­quate knowl­edge about its pre­ven­tions, com­pounded by wide­spread stig­ma­ti­sa­tion and ig­no­rance of the dis­ease. How­ever, what kills a so­ci­ety is not the dis­ease it­self, but our si­lence.

“With each and ev­ery one ac­tively con­tribut­ing their voice to the #Some­bodyLikeMe cam­paign, we hope to ad­dress these is­sues to­gether and lift our shroud of si­lence, ig­no­rance and fear to en­sure more ef­fec­tive ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

dig­i­tal me­dia con­sul­tant Niki cheong. Writer/blog­ger Joe Lee, aka Klub­bKidd KL.

datin Paduka ma­rina ma­hathir

Si­lence kills: World aIdS day pro­vides a plat­form to en­cour­age im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions not only about HIV/aIdS, but also the dis­crim­i­na­tion of peo­ple liv­ing with the in­fec­tion, and safe sex ed­u­ca­tion.

Vol­un­teer Lee Siew ching is pic­tured here dur­ing the Na­tional con­fer­ence on HIV and aIdS Preven­tion, care and Sus­tain­abil­ity on World aIdS day, 2009. more cam­paigns tar­get­ting young peo­ple are needed to help change per­cep­tions to­wards HIV/aIdS, and lower the rate of in­fec­tions in the coun­try.

reckitt benckiser malaysia & Sin­ga­pore mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor ab­hishek chuckar­butty.

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