Seven years ago at the One Young World Summit in Zurich, Brunei delegate Iswandy Ahmad won a standing ovation for his speech on raising awareness of HIV & AIDS. Today he is a member of the Legislative Council of Brunei, the state Parliament, but his work to help people living with HIV & AIDS goes on.
‘During my secondary school years in Brunei, I saw quite a number of my peers had to quit school due to teenage pregnancies. I also heard it said that the number of sexually transmitted infections & HIV cases were rising.
‘When I reached 22 I decided to take action. Rather than just reading about the subject or making comments on it on online forums, I decided, along with a few friends, to start an HIV awareness program back.
‘There was little information to work with and we didn't have a background in the matter. So we literally "copy and pasted" the content from a biology textbook and presented it at our first roadshow, which was in a secondary school.
‘After that, people and organisations approached us and offered assistance, including doctors from the Ministry of Health, friends and family members. There is very little training available in Brunei on this subject, so we tried to look for opportunities online and share best practices, adapted to Brunei's local context.
‘According to the Ministry of Health, Brunei reported its first local HIV case in 1986, and as of 2017 there are 199 total reported cases for Brunei citizens and permanent residents. People living with HIV & AIDS are provided with free medication and healthcare, yet the stigma surrounding this subject still exists and misconceptions are high among the public.
‘For 13 years I have been the President of The Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, a local non-profit, volunteer-based, non-government organisation. We try to challenge this stigma by educating and creating awareness on HIV & AIDS. The highest number of people diagnosed with HIV is in the 20-29 age. In 2010, 57 Brunei teenagers reported Sexually Transmitted Infections, with five of these below 15 years of age. An average 344 teenage pregnancies were reported annually between 2004-2013.
‘In 2011 I was chosen as a delegate for the One Young World Summit in Zurich and then, to my great surprise, I was selected as a delegate speaker. I didn't know where to start on my speech! With the guidance of One Young World staff I managed to pull off my presentation on HIV & AIDS, and received a standing ovation in front of almost 1000 attendees from all over the world. It was one of my proudest moments.
‘In recognition of my youth leadership work across a number of sectors I became in 2016 one of the youngest recipients of the Pingat Indah Kerja Baik (P.I.K.B) or Excellent Service Medal from the state of Brunei.
‘Last year, at the age of 32, I became one of the youngest parliamentarians at the Brunei Legislative Council. I have been appointed by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei, and it is an honour to serve my country.
‘I regularly deliver capacity-building programs for leadership development for young Brunei leaders and am an active advocate in civil society. Among my voluntary social contributions are awareness & advocacy work on HIV & AIDS, youth mentorship, and assisting with the employability of jobseekers.
‘Being a young parliamentarian, but having little background in policy studies, I am having to read and learn from scratch. I’m pursuing a Masters degree in Management at the University Brunei Darussalam to upscale my skills and knowledge so that I can better understand how to deliver my role as a Legislative Council Member.
‘I continue my work on awareness of HIV & AIDS. Being part of an NGO and a community leader, one needs to keep this subject afloat and address the matters that need to be tackled.
‘So we are creating awareness among Brunei employers about hiring people living with HIV & AIDS, and we are working with various agencies to educate teenagers on HIV & AIDS so that they have a better understanding than my peer group did when we were going through school.’