KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 — Nonprofit organisations have come out to support trans woman Rania Zara Medina’s appointment on a funding committee chaired by the deputy health minister.
The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) said the focus of Malaysia’s current round of funding from The Global Fund, an international organisation that fights AIDS, TB and malaria, was to address HIV infections among sex workers, transgender people, and men who have sex with men.
“CCM members are expected to carry out high level roles in providing counsel on HIV/AIDS and community-related issues during this two-year term,” said MAC, referring to the country coordinating mechanism’s (CCM) 2019/ 2021 term.
“MAC urges all parties to respect the outcome of the CCM appointments and work together towards improving the quality of health of all Malaysians, regardless of sex, gender, sexuality and other identifiers that may divide us,” added the HIV/ AIDS umbrella organisation.
MAC, the principal recipient of The Global Fund country grant, said it has worked with the Health Ministry on HIV prevention.
“Malaysia has been a recipient of GFATM (The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria) grants since 2011 to deliver projects and services that has contributed towards the reduction of new HIV infections in Malaysia,” said MAC.
Malaysia’s CCM started back in 2009 under the Barisan Nasional government. The CCM has always had transgender representatives since then. It comprises non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or faith-based organisations, people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, men who have sex with men, people living with HIV, and youth under 26.
Malay-Muslim conservatives have criticised Rania’s July 1 appointment, who is from trans rights group Justice For Sisters, as a member of the CCM that is chaired by Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye.
The Health Ministry’s Facebook post of Dr Lee’s statement defending Rania’s appointment was flooded with transphobic comments condemning her.
Dr Lee, who is from PKR, pointed out that The Global Fund required the CCM to have 25 members, comprising stakeholders like the government, NGOs, academics, and community representatives from target populations. The target communities choose their own representatives.
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad from Amanah said Rania’s appointment would be raised at a post-Cabinet meeting at the Health Ministry level.
Health think tank the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said Malaysia’s success in halving the number of new HIV infections and introducing harm reduction approaches was partly due to its strategy of getting participation from marginalised communities.
“Malaysia has always had a transgender representative on its Country Coordinating Mechanism. This role and burden of responsibility has been in recognition that this community is not ‘a problem’, but part of the solution to the country’s HIV epidemic,” Galen chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib said in a statement.
“A trans woman, Khartini Slamah, stood beside Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during the launch of the 5th International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific held in Kuala Lumpur in 1999.
“Tun Dr Mahathir’s example in leading the way pushing back against stigma and discrimination of those living on the fringes of society made a huge difference in how we look at those living with or affected by the disease today. The emphasis should be on compassion and acceptance, rather than discrimination and rejection,” Azrul added.