The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) is an umbrella organisation of 47 Partner Organisations across Malaysia working to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV (PLHIV), advocating for access to medicines, and undertaking advocacy activities to reduce the harms of injection drug use. Under the project of Asia Action, funded by the European Union, one of the objectives is to incorporate the gender-specific needs of women who use drugs into drug treatment, HIV prevention, and welfare services. As there is a dearth of research on women who use drugs in Malaysia, MAC is undertaking qualitative research with this population to document demographics and understand the needs and barriers facing women who use drugs.
Interviews are ongoing with 45 women who use drugs at urban settings in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kelantan and Johor using a semi-structured interview guide. Preliminary results indicate that s majority of respondents were poly-drug users with the mean age of initiation into heroin use in their early 20s. Only one had not had any contact with police as a consequence of drug use. Those who had been held in police custody had been in police custody more times than prison. Poverty was a key theme. The respondents also felt that they did not have adequate access to reproductive health and welfare services. Health literacy was low and early marriage was prevalent.
This report also provides insights into the unique vulnerabilities of young people who use drugs, and provides recommendations to better serve their needs.