Health Ministry: Sex now main transmitter of HIV

Justin Ong
Unprotected sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, now account for over nine in 10 HIV cases detected in 2018. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 — Nearly two in three new cases of HIV transmissions in 2018 resulted from male homosexual intercourse, according to the Health Ministry.

In an informational graphics that solely displayed percentages and omitting case numbers, the ministry sought to depict the changes in the disease’s transmission methods since the 1990s.

According to the ministry’s post, intravenous drug use had been the main method of transmission three decades ago, accounting for 61 per cent of cases. Sexual activity, both heterosexual and homosexual, accounted for just 5 per cent.

This proportion was previously attributed to the drug epidemic at the time, coupled with poor awareness about the dangers of needle sharing and reuse among intravenous drug users.

Authorities later embarked on nationwide needle-and-syringe exchange programmes that formed the bulwark of harm reduction efforts.

Such efforts have paid off, as demonstrated by the ministry’s informational graphics.

In 2018, intravenous drug use accounted for just 3 per cent of new HIV transmissions. “Other” sources, which included blood transfusions and mother-infant transmissions, also fell from 34 per cent in the 1990s to 3 per cent last year.

However, the effectiveness of the government’s efforts in addressing intravenous drug use and improving blood screening has shifted the focus towards unprotected sex.

Unprotected sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, now account for over nine in 10 cases detected in 2018.

Male homosexual intercourse was the greater proportion, at 57 per cent, while heterosexual encounters were responsible for 37 per cent.

The ministry released the information on transmission trends ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.

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