Middle income countries like Malaysia are seeing international funding for HIV start to dry up yet the epidemic is increasing among most at risk groups like men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, the transgender community and sex workers. At the start of the nineties, the number of females infected in Malaysia was one for every 99 men, now it is one in four.
Rose, 46, has been a sex worker for 15 years. She is also an outreach worker at the PT Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, which is supported by the Alliance’s Linking Organisation the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC), and helps sex workers to stay healthy by providing a raft of services from free condoms to legal advice.
“When I was young I had big dreams but my biggest mistake in life was falling too hard in love with an irresponsible man. The worst point in the relationship was when he forced me to have sex with his friends. Soon, if I didn’t sleep with the men, if I didn’t earn money, I would get hurt. I didn’t know my rights as a human being. If I was ever hit by him or any of the other men I would just keep quiet.
Being part of the PT Foundation means I am an empowered woman. I was self-conscious before. I would hate it when people looked at me; I thought they were judging me. I was very sad and lonely. Now I feel empowered and that I can reconnect with society at large. It’s also enabled my friends, other sex workers, to open their minds and to receive proper education about what their rights are.
We get a lot of stick from the police, they’ll say that we are encouraging people to sell sex by distributing condoms but that’s not true. I am proud that I am part of the foundation’s mission to help reduce HIV in vulnerable communities.”
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance has a long history of working with communities and marginalised and vulnerable groups who are at most risk of the HIV epidemic.