Today, I was horrified to hear reports of one Malaysian state officials comments on people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA). Several media sources are reporting that when Kelantan state Women and Family Development and Health Committee chairman Wan Ubaidah Omar was asked how to combat mother to child transmission of HIV, she responded by suggesting that HIV positive people refrain from having children at all. “My other advice is not to fall in love with anyone suffering from the disease,” she told the State Assembly Monday.
Statements such as these, especially when made by a representative of the state, represent a gross violation of the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA). They are not only factually inaccurate—she should have responded that a long course of antiretroviral drugs and avoidance of breastfeeding reduces the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS to below 2% —but they represent a major rights violation and promote stigma against PLWA, who are certainly deserving of love, compassion, and family.
Perhaps most disturbingly, the comments and attitudes demonstrated by Omar do not only affect the communities in Malaysia, or even in Asia as a whole. These harmful attitudes are the same ones that result in gross rights violations of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health globally. For just one example, look at the terrible story of forced sterilization of women living with HIV in Namibia from a few weeks ago.
If we want to truly stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, we must stop the ignorant promotion of stigma, discrimination, and misinformation. Instead, we need to invest in effective approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment—including comprehensive sexuality education, affordable contraception, reliable maternity care, screenings for all sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and appropriate care for those affected by HIV/AIDS.