Bandar Seri Begawan – HIV epidemic remains a main health problem in the Southeast Asian and now even in the Pacific regions but infection rate in Brunei has been one of the lowest, the head of the Asean’s Health and Communicable Diseases Division yesterday.
Dr Bounpheng Philavong told the local media that Brunei is viewed as among the top three countries in Southeast Asia to have the lowest prevalence rate of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections together with Laos PDR and the Philippines.
He said that in 2007 there were less than five million HIV infections reported in Southeast Asian and Pacific regions with 380,000 infections estimated each year.
“Brunei is among the country that has the lowest prevalence rate of HIV infections in the region… there are also other countries such as Lao PDR and the Philippines which have very low prevalence rate of HIV,” he said during the 17th Asean Task Force on AIDS (ATFOA) Meeting at the Rizqun International Hotel in Gadong.
Dr Bounpheng congratulated the Sultanate for being able to maintain a low HIV infection rate in the region.
“That shows the high commitment of Brunei decision–makers and also the hard work of the Ministry of Health of Brunei Darussalam in collaboration with partner organisation, and several other society organisations in fighting HIV, so we hope that this HIV trend in Brunei will remain really low and Brunei will continue setting a good example to Asean member states,” he added.
Although no statistics were released to support his statement, Dr Boupheng observed that Brunei has a lower number of high risk group of people for HIV infection, compared to other countries in the region.
“So Brunei Darussalam can also continue the education activities so its people continue to be aware on the risk of infection and let its people know that not just only the high–risk people can be infected but also other people so I think education still remains very important,” Dr Bounpheng said, adding that intervention or prevention is just as vital.
He reminded Asean member countries not to be complacent as the risk of infection varies from one country to another.
“At the present time, the high risk group of HIV infection includes for example, injectable drug–users, men who have sex with men (transgender) , sex workers and also migrant workers. But we cannot say that the normal sub–population are not at risk, you can see that at this moment, HIV/AIDS is a silently growing epidemic as the number of new infections among women with one partner or spouse is rising and more children are also infected and affected,” he said.
He continued to say sexual transmission remains to be the main mode of HIV transmission in most of the Asean countries, therefore the most important thing was to promote faithfulness among the spouses and promote use of protection.
Dr Bounpheng said to date, there were no plans to observe World AIDS Day at a regional level, however, he encouraged individual Asean member states to work to prevent spread of HIV.
In her opening remarks, the Director General of Health Services Dr Hjh Rahniah Hj Mohd Said said that HIV and AIDS is a notifiable disease in Brunei, under the Infectious Disease Order 2003 requiring all medical practitioners to report cases seen in their settings.
A total of 56 cases have been notified to the Disease Control Division until October 2009, since the establishment of sero–surveillance for HIV in August 1986, she said.
She added that clinical care including anti–retrovirals, support and counselling for HIV positive citizens and permanent residents were continued to be given free of charge. “As a low–prevalent country, we are closely monitoring our situation in the light of observed changing population behaviours, lifestyles, social structure and values as well as population mobility,” she said.
The three–day meeting which is scheduled to end tomorrow, will discuss several key issues on HIV–and Aids– related problems, work programmes and best practices as well as future implementation.