Shame and lack of education: HIV ravages fishermen community

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Our brand-new documentary series, COCONUTS TV ON IFLIX, the first original docu-series to drop on the streaming service, is out right now! While the six-episode series is available exclusively on iflix, you can get a taste of the series by watching a special segment from the third episode, “HIV at Sea” right here. Read on to learn more about the shocking truth of the fishermen community. 


Last year, a report issued by the Malaysian AIDS council detailing rampant cases of HIV amongst fishermen on the country’s east coast caught our eye.

It was a story, subject matter and affected group of citizens that hadn’t received a fraction of the coverage warranted from national newspapers, but we knew there was more to the story, enough for our Coconuts TV team to set off to Kuantan to investigate.

What we found there was, in the words of our host Tariq Nassri, “eye opening.” Himself a veteran of work with both HIV+ individuals and those with addiction issues, Nassri told Coconuts KL this week that the scenes of men shooting up in public spaces that our team encountered, were ultimately more sad than shocking.

As we spoke with the men and followed their routines over the course of a few days, it became clear that the image of “bad” men painted by the handful of articles that had been published failed to encompass the complexity of the situation.

Rural areas along the country’s east coast afford few economic opportunities for the men we interviewed, who largely dropped out of school early to support their families. Even leisure activities are few and far between.

Their drug use began early in life, and as someone who understands addiction issues first-hand, Tariq highlighted the country’s desperate need for both comprehensive sex and drug education.

Many of the men we interviewed had no idea whatsoever of the HIV risks that came with needle sharing, nor did they realize that unprotected sex would also spread the virus.

Unarmed with the basic knowledge of what they were confronting, many would use long fishing voyages as a means to stay clean longer, only to fall back into addiction once they returned to shore.

And while many had no issue shooting up in front of the cameras, the disease itself was something many of the men weren’t keen to speak about on camera thanks to the stigma around HIV that continues to hang around the peninsula.

We went straight into the heart of the epidemic to meet those on the ground trying to solve the issue. Find out more by watching our episode: HIV at Sea.

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