HIV/AIDS-Related Knowledge Among Malaysian Young Adults: Findings From a Nationwide Survey

Li-Ping Wong; Caroline-Kwong Leng Chin; Wah-Yun Low; Nasruddin Jaafar

Disclosures

Medscape J Med. 2008;10(6):148 

In This Article

Introduction

Globally, young people aged 15-24 years account for about 40% of new HIV infections,[1] and this is true in Malaysia, where HIV infections occur primarily among young people. The trend among adolescents and young adults towards high-risk behavior coupled with insufficient education are the primary reasons for the increase in transmission of HIV.[1,2] A worrisome aspect of this epidemic is that HIV/AIDS affects Malaysians in their prime productive years. Malaysia's young people are assets in the development of the country, and this epidemic results in a drain on human resources in this most economically-productive portion of the population.[3]

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Malaysia has emerged as an important health problem since the first HIV case was detected in 1986.[4]Since then, according to the Malaysian AIDS Council Resource Center, the cumulative number of HIV infections up to June 2007 amounted to a total of 78,784.[5] Particularly alarming is the fact that the HIV infection rate and AIDS cases are showing a rapid increase among young people. In young people aged less than 30 years, there were 20,330 HIV infections and 1818 AIDS cases recorded in 2002. In 2005, the number increased to 26,810 and 2546, respectively. Up to June 2007, a total of 29,269 HIV infections and 2974 AIDS cases were reported in Malaysians below the age of 30 years.[5]

Malaysia is a moderate Islamic country with the majority of Muslim Malays and other ethnicities (Chinese and Indian) living together with the freedom to practice their religion and observe other cultural practices. Like many Islamic societies, issues dealing with sex and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are seen as taboo and sensitive, and therefore are not discussed openly.[6,7,8] Despite the domination of conservative and traditional values in Malaysia, adolescents date and many engage in unsafe sexual intercourse.[9] The incidence of adolescents engaging in sexual intercourse also increases with age.[10,11] What is more alarming is that most sexual encounters are unsafe, with no protection against STI and unwanted pregnancy.[12] There is no doubt that young people are at greater risk of acquiring STIs, particularly HIV/AIDS, than other age groups.

With no specific cure for HIV/AIDS, preventive measures based on information and education programs remain crucial for tackling HIV/AIDS and its associated problems.[13] Thus, communication and intervention strategies play important roles in educating the public, especially the young adult, on the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS. Previous studies on HIV/AIDS issues were done based on purposive sampling of populations such as drug users, healthcare workers, and adolescents[14,15,16] and results cannot be generalized to the population as a whole. Few published studies are available on the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about HIV/AIDS among the general population in Malaysia.

A nationwide survey was conducted for the Ministry of Health Malaysia to assess HIV/AIDS-related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices among the population aged 15-49 years. The purpose of this survey was to lay down a baseline measurement to help design education and intervention strategies related to HIV/AIDS that would educate the public, raise awareness, and ultimately decrease the incidence of risk-related behaviors associated with the spread of HIV. This article reports on the findings among young respondents aged 15-24 years.

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