Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman has the knack to marry science and the fight for human rights.
Armed with a body of scientific research material, she has trudged through opponents and won battles such as ensuring that Malaysia’s harm reduction policy for injecting drug users (IDUs) has been maintained for the past 13 years.
The method is simple: use facts to fight negative perception and opinion.
When she isn’t making her way through fights for better drug policies, she is also changing up the curriculum at Universiti Malaya’s faculty of medicine where she is dean.
Dr Adeeba also established the Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS (CERiA) at UM where HIV research is carried out.
For a woman with such a packed schedule, Dr Adeeba still finds time to do her weekly ward rounds.
“I miss it,” she says.
She was also president of Malaysian AIDS Council from 2006 to 2010 and remains Malaysian AIDS Foundation chairman.
Dr Adeeba remembers how harm reduction came into fruition when a group of like-minded people put in a grant to the National Institutes of Health in the United States that focussed on HIV and drug use.
“The problem was not many people knew much about harm reduction and what the hell was going on in Malaysia,” she says.
Long story short: They got the grant and got to work.
HIV/AIDS numbers were increasing in Malaysia with a peak of 6,978 cases in 2002.
There has been an decline in the years since harm reduction was started in 2006 after the Malaysian government gave to go ahead to proceed (a pilot project was started the year before).
The number of new infections recorded in 2016 was 3,397 with trend of infection shifting from drug use to sexual transmission.
Harm reduction in the country are the needle and syringe exchange programme (NSEP) at the site, and methadone maintenance therapy (MMT).
Non-governmental organisations are tasked to reach out to IDUs to provide clean needles and counselling.
Funding is provided by the Malaysian government.
IDUs are also encouraged to sign up for MMT which is carried out at government hospitals and health clinics.
“Drug use and HIV had caused an epidemic in Malaysia back then,” she adds.
“We went knocking on doors, raised awareness including the police, AADK (National Anti-Drug Agency) and Prisons Department.”
“All of us were motivated and we knew we had to do something. Then, we also had to train people to make sure they knew the system.”
Dr Adeeba’s fight to help people living with HIV/AIDS started when she was based in Australia. She graduated from Monash University and trained in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Monash Medical Centre and Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital.
Her intent has never wavered through the years and she is thankful that others have caught on to making harm reduction stick.
People such as the outreach workers and relevant government officers.
“They believed in it and all of us worked on it” she says.
Next on her list is changing drug policy in the country that she says should focus on treatment and rehabilitation.
Her focus is re-employment once drug users get out into the real world.
“They should be taught job skills and life skills. When they come out, they have a criminal record and no job,” she says.
“They are stigmatised. Shunned by family and friends. So, they back to their drugs and that is why the relapse rate is high.”
“And keep the treatment evidence-based.”
Dr Adeeba says more focus should also be put on nabbing the drug traffickers.
For someone who has been in the fight for so long, she says it has made her a better person.
“I really appreciate what I have and it always reminds me to count my blessings,” she adds.
Courtesy of Love , Care in a Disease website