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Women are "agents of change" in confronting HIV and AIDS

On the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day, UNICEF encourages investments in their leadership to transform agendas and protect children from the harm of HIV.

© UNICEF Malaysia/2008/Zurin
HH Dato' Seri Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz (2nd from R) together with Mr. Youssouf Oomar, Puan Jamaliah Sulaiman and Dato Dr. Hasan bin Abdul Rahman hold copies of the newly launched report "Women and Girls Confronting HIV and AIDS in Malaysia".

KUALA LUMPUR, 4 December 2008 – On the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day, which falls officially on 1 December 2008, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) encourages more investments from all sectors of society to furnish women with the strength, resources and hope to be effective advocates and agents of change in confronting HIV and AIDS.

Speaking at the launch of the Ministry of Health and UNICEF Report 2008 titled “Women and Girls Confronting HIV and AIDS in Malaysia”, UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Mr. Youssouf Oomar stressed that empowering and encouraging women to be leaders in any HIV response must be the strategy of the future.

“Malaysia must ensure that gender equality and empowerment of women go hand-in-hand with HIV and AIDS prevention and care programs”, said Mr. Youssouf. “We need to get more women involved. We need to get them to work together and to get their voices heard.”

Her Highness Dato’ Seri Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz, the Princess of Kedah and Chair of the Sultanah Bahiyah Foundation received the Report from an HIV-positive mother Jamaliah binti Sulaiman. The Ministry of Health’s Director for Disease Control Division Dato’ Dr. Hasan Bin Abdul Rahman and Mr. Youssouf witnessed the presentation together with some 100 guests representing government agencies, foreign missions, non-government organisations, the private sector and the media.

According to the Report, women are one of the fastest growing populations being infected with HIV in Malaysia. While the proportion of women and girls reported to have been infected with HIV remains less than 10 per cent as of December 2007, the past five years have seen dramatic increases in the number of new cases documented amongst women.

The trend of new HIV infections occurring amongst women has risen alarmingly from 1.2% of total new cases in 1990, 9.0% in 2002, 10.8% in 2004 to 15% in 2006. The latest data from the Ministry of Health as of December 2007 indicates that this proportion is now 16%. Most HIV infections among women and girls in Malaysia have occurred through heterosexual sex, a large number of whom are housewives. This is a cause of concern as the vulnerability of women and children to HIV are directly linked to each other.

“The increasing feminisation of HIV in Malaysia is more than just an issue of preventing or controlling the spread of the virus. Instead, it requires us to understand and respond to the vulnerabilities and risks related to gender discrimination and inequality, cultural and religious norms and expectations, and economics,” said Mr. Youssouf. “Stigma in particular deserves special attention as it can hinder effective prevention, care and treatment efforts, possibly turning what could be a manageable chronic illness into a death sentence while perpetuating the spread of HIV.”

A multisectoral approach which combines the political will and resources of government agencies and the private sector together with the passion and dedication of non-government organisations, community-based organisations, women and youth organisations as well as faith-based organisations is required to tackle the underlying issues around risk behaviour and vulnerabilities.

Since the set-up of the country’s first National AIDS Task Force in 1985, the Government has made great strides to address the epidemic in Malaysia, introducing interventions that include a safe blood program, the prevention-of-mother-to-child HIV program, as well as free or highly subsidised treatment for HIV. The Government will continue to strengthen its response to HIV for the country to attain its 6th Millennium Development Goal – to halt and reverse the spread of HIV by 2015.

The Government’s commitment to support and protect women and children is evident in Strategy 4 of the National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS 2006-2010, which is dedicated specifically to these vulnerable populations. To further strengthen and enhance this strategy, the Report recommends, amongst others, the following:

§ Establish and strengthen a Women, Girls and HIV Desk

§ Enhance the availability and capacity of technical expertise at the National AIDS Secretariat

§ Increase the availability of gender disaggregated data and analysis

§ Undertake more social science research to examine HIV-related vulnerabilities and risk

§ Identify and implement specific programs which address issues of HIV vulnerability for women

§ Encourage women to go for voluntary HIV counselling and testing (VCT)

§ Strengthen sexual reproductive health education and youth initiatives

“We must however not forget to ensure the involvement and engagement of men and boys in any of these interventions,” added Mr. Youssouf. “Programs targeting women must embrace men as partners in order to support and develop the necessary structures and enabling environment which will shift women and girls from being mere beneficiaries of programs to leaders and agents of change!”



UNICEF “Women Unite” video documentary (5 mins 16 seconds)
The documentary is available in Beta-Tape, both in mono (English voice over by Asha Gill) and split tracks. Shotlist enclosed. The video is free for broadcast, print publication and radio distribution. Please credit UNICEF if used.

World AIDS Day, officially observed on 1 December, is a day when individuals and organisations come together to bring attention to the global AIDS epidemic. 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. The theme this year is the same as 2007 - Leadership - promoted with the campaign slogan, “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.”

The theme highlights both the political leadership needed to fulfil commitments that have been made in response to HIV and AIDS - particularly the promise of universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support - and celebrating the leadership that has been witnessed at all levels of society. For more information, please visit

Children are the missing face of AIDS. The UNICEF and UNAIDS five-year global campaign “Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS”, launched globally on 25 October 2005, provides a platform for urgent and sustained programs, advocacy and fundraising to limit the impact of HIV and AIDS on children and help halt the spread of the disease. The Campaign calls upon every part of global society to join together to put the care and protection of children, adolescents and young people at the center of the HIV/AIDS agenda.

The Campaign was launched in Malaysia on 25 November 2005 by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF. For more information, please visit

For more than 60 years, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been helping governments, communities and families make the world a better place for children. Part of the United Nations system, UNICEF has an enviable mandate and mission, to advocate for children's rights and help meet their needs. In Malaysia, UNICEF has been working with the Government since 1954 by supporting programs in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, formal and non-formal education as well as services for deprived children in poor urban areas. With Malaysia’s progress and development, our focus today includes three new priorities – Responding to HIV; Ending Violence Against Children; and Basic Quality Services for Vulnerable Children. For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact:

Indra Kumari Nadchatram
UNICEF Media Malaysia
Tel +6012 292 6872,





Video: Women Unite!

Narrated by Asha Gill.

Ministry of Health & UNICEF Report 2008

Women and Girls: Confronting HIV and AIDS in Malaysia, 2008. Read

Women Unite! Speeches

World AIDS Day 2008

Unite against AIDS

The Malaysian Launch
  (with )

The AIDS Response


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