AIDS Council debunks influencer doctor who branded those living with HIV as “unclean”

THE Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) has criticised a doctor who went viral recently over his claim that persons living with HIV are “unclean” and a recount of a conversation he had with a patient who claimed to have gotten the virus through a needle-stick.

Dr Ahmad Samhan, an influential medical practitioner on social media with over 50,000 followers on Twitter alone, also claimed that there is no medicine to treat HIV or AIDS as such medication only delays the virus from fostering in the patient’s body.

His Twitter thread on the matter has since been deleted after widespread outcry from members of the medical fraternity and netizens over ethical concerns and the impact of his stigmatising remarks against those living with HIV and AIDS.

“MAC disagrees with the statement given by the mentioned practitioner – just because a person is living with HIV, does not mean they (should be) identified as ‘unclean’,” a spokesperson for the umbrella organisation coordinating the efforts of NGOs working on HIV/AIDS issues in Malaysia told FocusM

They also noted that the risk of HIV transmission through a needle stick is “highly unlikely” as the rate of HIV transmission through needle-stick injuries is “very low”. 

“Patients may inadvertently say they have acquired HIV through needle-stick injuries for fear of being stigmatised further if they report transmission through sexual exposure,” the spokesperson added.

While the spokesperson noted that needle-stick injuries are most likely to happen among healthcare workers who are accidentally exposed to infected blood (i.e. occupational exposure), documented cases of HIV infection following an injury are extremely rare. 

They also said that there have been no documented cases of HIV infection through contact with needles in this way and the actual risk of HIV transmission from needle-stick injuries “may be far lower”. 

(Photo credit: The Star)

“So low it can be deemed rare”

“It is so low, in fact, that it can now be considered rare,” the spokesperson added.

They further noted that if the doctors have further inquiries on the matter, guidelines have been established to help healthcare institutions manage needle-stick injuries and when to initiate post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medication, if needed.

PEP can be given within 72 hours of exposure to HIV to prevent occupational or non-occupational exposure to the virus.

Meanwhile, responding to Dr Ahmad’s claim that there is no medicine to treat HIV/AIDS, the MAC spokesperson said antiretroviral medication or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) works by stopping the virus from replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and preventing further damage. 

“Relating to his statement on side effects related to antiretroviral medication, modern antiretroviral therapy is much more tolerable and has fewer side effects,” the spokesperson added.

“Studies have also shown that a person who is on effective treatment and who has an undetectable viral load can’t pass on HIV to another person, sexually. This is known as U=U or undetectable is equivalent to untransmittable.”

Those who criticised Dr Ahmad on Twitter raised similar points, with one doctor explaining that the risks of getting HIV through needle-stick injuries can be prevented through the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Calls have also been made for the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) to update its code of professional conduct to include members’ personal conduct on social media as the code covers personal conduct and conduct after hours. – Oct 5, 2022


Main photo credit: mStar

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