JHJ Coffee Corner - Prejudices and Opportunities Surrounding People Living with HIV

In conjunction with JHJ's 20th Anniversary, we launched our segment session called the "JHJ Coffee Corner". 

The Coffee Corner aims to bring people and interest alike to our firm's cozy coffee corner whilst addressing sensational topic that is constantly overshadowed.

Throughout the session, the parties were engaged in a meaningful and englightening dialogue addressing the issue of the misconceptions and stigma surrounding people living with HIV. 

We were made to understand that there exists, in some cases, extreme and unfair prejudice against people with HIV on a number of fronts because HIV touches on so many social taboos which leads to largely unsubstantiated assumptions regarding their sexuality, sexual practices, morality (e.g whether or not they were a "good" or "bad" person), race, mental health and even the basic ability to work (especially around others). Severe misconceptions have led many employers to refuse to hire (and in some cases fire) a person who is HIV positive on the mistaken belief that the employees may get infected or that person is a "bad person" which is why he contracted it. 

No one wants to contract HIV but there is an irrational fear regarding the way the virus is transmitted leading to very misunderstood ideas that one can catch it, for example from sharing a cup, touching etc. But the same fear is not shared with other highly contagious diseases e.g Hepatitis B and C. Assuming basic hygience is practicd, one cannot get infected by the HIV virus using common eating utensils, touching, hugging, living in the same households, mosquito bites, using the same toilets etc.

Nonetheless, the fear of stigma and discrimination discourage those who are HIV positive from getting treatments, thus creating an endless vicious cycle of  fear and undiagnosed (and untreated) HIV. Sufferers themselves have the misconception that having HIV/AIDS means life has effectively ended. But in today's day and age, HIV/AIDS is highly treatable and treatment is free at government hospitals. Provided one adheres to the treatment regiment, a person with HIV will lead a very normal life, including the possiblity (with certain steps taken) of conceiving a HIV-free baby. A happy family life is possible even with HIV. With treatment and planned management, which requires only taking pills and other simple steps, spouses (one of whom has HIV) can have normal sexual intercourse at almost the normal frequency of other normal spouses. 

The lack of awareness amongst the community about HIV/AIDS is one of the mains reasons HIV/AIDS remains a highly stigmatised conditions thus rendering HIV-related discrimination widespread. 

After listening to input from Dr Anu and Ms Mano, the directors on the panel understood and expressed that it was tragic that HIV patients, who can work normally if they get treated, suffer from discrimination. They further expressed that personally they had no problems hiring a person with HIV and in fact, suggested that the NGOs and authorities engage in discourse with management level personnel in their efforts to spread awareness. Currently, efforts are focused mainly on creating awareness mostly among people at the employee/non-management level. 

The session ended on a positive note with suggestions from the group such as getting Malaysian Aids Council (MAC) to partner up with the Department of Occupational Health and Safety (DOSH), Ministry of Human Resources to play an informative and educational role to both the employers and staff and to encourage organisations to have health and safety procedures and policies in place that would protect the staff who are diagnosed with HIV positive.

Organisations are capable of showing their support by offering their employees free confidential counselling and testing services, either through company-sponsored facilities or by providing the necessary time off to access these services at local health centres. The policy should also include principles of non-discrimination, assurance of confidentiality and privacy and contingency plans for medical treatment among others.

As a law firm in a modern 21st century, JHJ aspires to play a role in the community to contributing positively to the challeging odium plaguing people living with HIV. We hope to continue to impart wisdom and knowledge to the issues relating to sexual health and improving linkages to HIV healthcare services to others and those around us. 

This coffee corner dialogue was one of our efforts to bring people together to hash issues and problems faced on a daily basis. We hope to continue to have a noteworthy dialogue in the next quarter.

Date: 16 March 2017

Venue: JHJ (Kuala Lumpur Office)

Guest Speakers: 

  • Dr Anuradha P Radhakrishnan from Selayang Hospital who specialises in infectious diseases;

  • Ms Manohara Subramaniam from the Malaysian Aids Council

  • Mr Jeff Lee, Executive Director from AJU Construction and 

  • Mr Kevin Poo, Managing Director of Velocity Outdoor Asia Sdn Bhd

Moderators: Andrew Chee and Angeline Ang

 

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