Red Ribbon Youth Icon returns to Sahara to raise AIDS awareness

KUALA LUMPUR, 21 January 2016 – Jeff Lau has absolutely no hesitation taking up the Marathon des Sables challenge for the second time. The Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) today announced that the 26-year-old Kuala Lumpur-born would be repeating the extraordinary feat he achieved in 2014, of being the youngest Malaysian to complete what Discovery Channel calls “the toughest footrace on earth”, to raise funds for MAF.

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The Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) is joined by supporter the Ministry of Health Malaysia and hospitality partner Hilton Kuala Lumpur in launching the MAF Marathon des Sables 2016 Challenge. From left: Jeff Lau, MAF Marathon des Sables 2016 Challenge Runner and Red Ribbon Youth Icon; Jamie Mead, General Manager, Hilton Kuala Lumpur; Hisham Hussein, Honorary Secretary, MAF; Dr. Mohd Nasir Abd Aziz, Senior Principal Assistant Director/Consultant Public Health Physician, HIV/STI Sector, Ministry of Health Malaysia; and Andrew Tebbutt, Chair, MAF Marathon des Sables 2016 Challenge Project Committee. – Photo © 2016 Malaysian AIDS Foundation.

Marathon des Sables is a six-day ultra-marathon spanning 251 km across harsh arid terrain in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. Entering its 31st edition, the race this year will run from 8 to 18 April and is expected to draw the participation of 1,000 top endurance runners and enthusiasts from all over the world.

“Although I have repeatedly said in the past that I would never again put myself through the most physically excruciating experience of my life, seeing the current HIV and AIDS situation in this country, I simply have no other choice than to continue running,” said the avid marathon runner.

“MAF is extremely proud of what Jeff had accomplished at such a young age,” remarked Professor Dr. Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Chairman of MAF.

“Young people in the 20 to 29 age group accounted for more than one-third of new HIV infections in Malaysia in 2014. Given the rise in sexual transmission of HIV, which in the same year made up 78 per cent of new HIV infections, the HIV epidemic is now more than ever affecting the young population.”

“This is why we need passionate young Malaysians like Jeff to take the lead on charting the course of the AIDS response and inspire other young people to join the movement,” she added.

Recognising the critical role of young people in the HIV response, the Ministry of Health Malaysia appointed Jeff Lau as Red Ribbon Youth Icon at the national World AIDS Day 2015 event last December.

“I am deeply honoured by this recognition, which I will use as a platform to spread the word to my peers and other young people about the importance of responsible sexual health behaviour, knowing one’s HIV status and access to early treatment for those who are living with HIV,” said Jeff who just recently graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia with a bachelor’s degree in communication design.

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Jeff Lau, 26, a Red Ribbon Youth Icon appointed by the Ministry of Health Malaysia, will be returning to the Southern Moroccan Sahara desert in April to compete in the 31st Edition of Marathon des Sables 2016 to raise funds for the Malaysian AIDS Foundation. – Photo © 2016 Malaysian AIDS Foundation.

Andrew Tebbutt, chair of the MAF Marathon des Sables 2016 Challenge project committee said that in addition to increasing HIV and AIDS awareness, it looks to raise funds to support high-impact HIV and AIDS health programmes for underprivileged women and children, as well as HIV education, empowerment, advocacy and leadership programme for young people through MAF’s Red Ribbon Youth Club.

“While the AIDS response in Malaysia has shown remarkable progress particularly in the past decade, resulting in the 50 per cent decline of new HIV infections, financial resources to mobilise and expand the scale of the response continue to be limited. We are confident that having Jeff, who is a fervent advocate of HIV youth issues, on our side for the second time around will reinvigorate the interest of donors and public in our cause.”

The previous MAF Marathon des Sables Challenge, in which Jeff ran alongside Ralph Dixon, a fellow Malaysian and Trustee of MAF, raised over RM 80,000.

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Jeff Lau (right) and his running partner Ralph Dixon (left) at the finish line of the 29th Edition of Marathon des Sables 2014 in the Southern Moroccan Sahara desert. The only two Malaysians who competed in the “world’s toughest footrace” that year, they helped raise RM 80,000 for the Malaysian AIDS Foundation. – Photo © 2016 Malaysian AIDS Foundation / Ralph Dixon.

“We target to double the amount raised from the last time, and therefore are counting on the generosity of concerned corporates and individuals to send Jeff on his mission to change the course of the AIDS epidemic,” added Tebbutt.

The MAF Marathon des Sables 2016 Challenge is supported by the Ministry of Health Malaysia and hospitality partner Hilton Kuala Lumpur who provided full sponsorship of the launch event.

Corporations and individuals who wish to make their contributions may do so by contacting Arif (MAF) at arif@mac.org.my or 03-40474257/012-9594596. An online crowdfunding drive is also ongoing viahttps://www.simplygiving.com/event/mds2016

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