This morning I found myself making way to attend a forum, the exact name of it, I couldn’t recall and when I arrived, there was the usual registration table. They greeted me by name, I was so shocked because I didn’t know anyone, how did they know me?
Any way, on the table there were three labels, government, NGO and academia. I thought for a moment, I could belong to any three but funny enough my name was put under the government group. As I signed myself in, my mind began to wander at the turn of events that lead me to this moment.
I will not lie, ever since a friend invited me to attend this forum two or three days ago, although in my heart I wanted to go, I had A LOT of reservations. If it was only one year ago, I would not be caught dead near such meetings. Suddenly, here I am at the “Getting to Zero: A Forum on Working Together Towards a Comprehensive HIV and AIDS Services Package”.
How did I end up here?
I am in the process of getting my first book, Book #1, which I have renamed ‘Untitled’ for the moment, published. There is a small part in the book about overcoming prejudices. In this piece I wrote about my friendship with a HIV positive person, which initially, I did not know about (the status), so I was able to ‘see’ this friend as a person first, and the friendship helped change my perception of people with HIV. The saddest thing is, by profession, I am a doctor, however, the truth is, there are a lot of healthcare workers who share the same prejudice I used to have. It is my hope that my story will help others overcome what I did.
But my story was rather short. I remember another doctor mentioned in a facebook group, how his journey of overcoming prejudice towards HIV patients started with shaking hands and hugging to sharing a fork while eating cake. I was hoping to include the story in my book, so I asked if he wanted to contribute. In return, I was invited to this forum because here was the place to go to understand stigma, so my doctor-friend said.
I asked my friend what the forum was about and the answer was “there is currently an outbreak of HIV among MSM and TG”. I asked my friend “what is MSM and TG?” The reply was ‘men who sleep with men’ and  ‘transgender’. Even typing that out was not easy for me, please understand. I thought about it and hesitated. I really wished I had some valid excuse not to go but there was none. I had actually kept today appointment free because I was planning to finish my MBA assignment. I suppose it is fate.
So there I was at the forum, feeling really uncomfortable. Luckily, there were ‘normal’ people whom I could talk to and pretend that everything was ok. I was actually very disappointed with myself because up till today, I was one of the least prejudiced person that I know. I guess I was wrong about me. I tried to think back even to my childhood, to find the cause of this prejudice, and I can’t pinpoint any specific event, I suppose it is an accumulation of experience of what we hear and see from the people around us and may be the media. I’m not sure.
When the event started, I was made even more uncomfortable when the emcees started talking about gender and age. I felt like I wanted to disappear. Finally, the talks and slides started, and as usual, I tend to daydream and become bored when bombarded with tons of information.
There were a few slides that I couldn’t forget though. One in particular I think was a study done by Lancet, which stated that MSM as a group was “illegal in most countries, subject to political and social hostility” on a global scale. And to think I thought being a muslim was perceived as ‘bad’ in some parts of the world was horrible, this seemed worse.
Leaving the forum, I have now a lot of food for thought. I even hesitated writing this status update for fear of what others might think and say, but then, I thought to myself, I’ve never really cared about what people think, so why should I start now? I have only been interested in writing about the truth, and I could never predict how my writings will be received, so I wont start now.
Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. Thanks for reading.See More
  • Muhamad Yazli Yuhana hemmm where can we start, history of HIV in malaysia is long and tortuous. a lot of stigma and prejudice, but i must say its so much better now. well nowadays HIV has become a chronic disease… like diabetes, hypertension or heart failure (one would say its better to get HIV than heart failure—> because you cant easily get a heart transplant), anyway the point is, none of the aforementioned ailments are curable, at least not for now. nowadays, people do not die from HIV anymore, they only die if they present late to seek treatment, of what we call HAART (highly active anti retroviral treatment) —> what HAART does is preventing the virus from replicating and making them ‘dormant’…
  • Muhamad Yazli Yuhana but this does not mean that only the medical personnel should play the active role… my part is to treat those who fall sick from the disease… and other parties have their own role to play as well —> encouraging monogamy and safe sex and educating the poor and broken families so that their offsprings dont fall into drugs (yes poor economy is a strong predictor to drugs). i would like to highlight that education is the most important thing. when we do not have knowledge of HIV, we fall into the trap of stigma, prejudice and hatred. after all who are we to judge our fellow human beings?
  • Cik Pinat Yang Penat Had to treat 1 patient with hiv.. excited to see the patient cos i want to noe what a hiv patient look like.. (first timer) … turn out, she just look like other patients.. glad to have dat kind of experience.. now, not freak out too much it.. but yeah, giving information is important at early stage.. i bet nowadays tv in malaysia stop showing about hiv.. more to heart attack . Diabetes.. i guess those disease is more common now..
  • Jimbo Jimbo One of my Bucket List is to write a book on the history of HIV in Malaysia (similar to ‘And the Band Played On’). Just don’t have the energy or time to kick start the project.
  • Mazlyn Mustapha Dr James @Jimbo Jimbo would love to volunteer help co-author but too many projects at the moment…
  • Miza Hiryanti Zakaria Dear Mazlyn Mustapha..
    I grew up in a poor fishing village up north. Almost every other house in my neighbourhood has a member who was an intravenous drug user. When I grew up I was able to identify who was sick with a particular illness (I didn’t know it was AIDS till later) n who was not. Because so many people with almost similar illness. .it was never a stigma.
    In medical school.. I learned about HIV and AIDS and the stigma.
  • Mazlyn Mustapha Important point there Dr Miza Hiryanti, so what had happened between your neighbourhood and medical school? Is it the fact that they are strangers?
  • Miza Hiryanti Zakaria I think part of it because they r strangers and peer pressure… people in medical profession can b very cruel and judgemental.  I m very sorry but it was a fact.
  • Siti Hajar Ahmad I don’t like people who spread HIV to their innocent wives/husbands and children. I don’t agree with gay and lesbian because the Qur’an said so and Qur’an is the words of Allah SWT.
    I sympathize with those who have it through others fault and not their own. but I cannot accept those IV drug abuser,  promiscuity, gay and lesbian.
  • Miza Hiryanti Zakaria I have a story. .. years ago in my village.. there was this despicable practice in which parents went to remote villages to find brides for their HIV sons. Having said that..
    My stand on HIV never change. … it is a disease and all who contracted it are patients…
  • Rekha Balachandran The problem lies in our tendency to pass judgement. Regardless of the mechanism of infection, every man, woman and child with HIV or AIDS, is a human being first. We should never lose sight of that seminal fact when we see someone with an illness.