HIV in Malaysia: Focusing on the young population and advocacy through arts
In Malaysia, discussions on sex and HIV are commonly centred on key populations and adults, placing little emphasis on young people. There is also constant denial that young people are sexually engaged much earlier. Leaving the young population out of such discussions has limited their awareness on risky sexual behaviours and the existence of preventive methods that can protect them from sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
The 2019 Country Progress Report on HIV/AIDS by the Ministry of Health revealed that HIV prevalence across the young population (aged 13 to 29) showed an upward trend from 2009 to 2018. Within the young population, while HIV prevalence was highest among the LGBT community; the report also revealed an alarming downward trend on safe sex behaviours among people who inject drugs and female sex workers.
In this context, the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM), with the support of the Gilead Asia Pacific Rainbow Grant, introduced Art From The Heart: A Prevention, Education and Awareness (PEA) project developed to empower young people living with HIV and peel off stigma and discrimination associated with HIV. At FRHAM, we are devoted in our efforts, to help advance Malaysia’s National HIV Strategic Plan.
Through the Art From The Heart program, we adopted a creative learning approach by leveraging art to create a safe space for youths to learn about HIV and express themselves, regardless of their religion or sexual orientation. In 2020, before the pandemic struck, we managed to conduct an inception meeting with youths, NGOs, art therapists and teachers; and two Training of Trainer (ToT) courses that utilized our - FRHAM developed - facilitator’s manual which served as guideline on the use of art in HIV education and how to create an enabling environment for PLHIV. The manual was registered and verified by the National Library of Malaysia, as the first documented use of art in HIV education and advocacy in the country. During our ToT workshop, we also invited youths and asked them to participate on a survey on HIV advocacy through art; this is part of a pilot study that we are looking to publish in 2021.
Due to COVID-19, many of our plans have shifted, but we have continued advancing the PEA project through a social media campaign and we look to resuming our Art From The Heart sessions with appropriate protective measures in place. We believe that with HIV, we are now at a critical crossroads in Malaysia, and we want to address the elephant in the room, which is, that the number of HIV infected youths is increasing, and we are doing our best to overcome the circumstances brought on by COVID-10 to tackle this issue.
Inception Meeting – FRHAM meeting with youths, the art therapist and teacher to design Art From The Heart sessions.
Art From The Heart – Participants scribbling to kick-start their creative juices and drawing face masks to explore living with HIV as presented in public (an outer mask) vs the potential true selves (an inner true self).
HIV awareness & supporting people living with HIV – Participants exploring the needs, and physical, mental and emotional aspects of persons living with HIV, and penned supportive messages for them.
Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia (FRHAM) is the leading service-based, non-profit NGO in Malaysia that advocates and promotes sexual and reproductive health. This includes family planning, reproductive rights of women, men and young people, and sexual education as per the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) method.
In 2012, FRHAM was awarded the United Nations Population Award for our work with vulnerable communities such as sex workers, people living with HIV, and young people.