Materia Medica Malaysiana

May 21, 2007

Tough task of promoting condom use goes to NGOs

Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 11:21 am

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: The debate on whether the government will lead the campaign to promote the use of condoms to fight HIV/AIDS may be over.
Health Ministry deputy director Dr Jalal Halil Khalil said the job had been handed over to non-governmental organisations like the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) through its 37 affiliates.
He said the government could not be seen to be the agent advocating the use of condoms as this could be misinterpreted.
“We realise that we are an Islamic country and we have to do things carefully,” he told a press conference yesterday in conjunction with the International AIDS Memorial Day (IAMD).
“That is why we have given this duty to non-governmental organisations like the Malaysian AIDS Council.”
Dr Jalal, of the AIDS/STD unit, said the ministry and the government were concerned about the rising number of people being infected every year.
“Of course, we are worried. If not, we would not be working hard. We will not give up. We will continue to educate.”
Seventy per cent of the nearly 75,000 people with HIV/AIDS are Injecting Drug Users (IDUs).
Existing efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS has so far been targeted at IDUs, sex workers and homosexuals.
However, the steady rise of HIV/AIDS among sexually-active heterosexuals, not only among marginalised communities but also among the public, is worrying the government and NGOs.
Dr Jalal said the government understood that condoms were the answer to preventing HIV transmission among marginal- ised groups like sex workers, IDUs and the public.
Citing the needle and syringe exchange programme (NSEP) introduced last year, Dr Jalal said needles and syringes were also handed out through NGOs.
The NSEP falls under the National Strategic Plan on the Control and Prevention of HIV/AIDS, on which the ministry has spent RM27 million.
“The important thing is to prevent HIV/AIDS from spreading. We have to give enough information to all levels of society. But changing knowledge to behaviour is not easy.”
Malaysian AIDS Foundation trustee Datuk Zaman Khan, while agreeing the use of condoms was the best method of controlling HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, said abstinence was still the best option.
“There are so many taboos in this country. Not a single religion on earth encourages people to have intercourse before marriage but in reality, it happens.
“I am not trying to encourage heterosexual practices but the truth is one way to stop HIV from spreading is by the use of condoms. The problem we have is about how to promote their use.”
MAC president Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said promoting the use of condoms had been a challenge over the past 20 years.
“Delaying sexual practices and having monogamous relationships are ideals but these do not necessarily happen in real life. We have to match that with pragmatism.”
Surveys, she said, had shown that Malaysians were having sex at a young age but many were not protecting themselves.
Asked how the taboo associated with condoms could be broken, she said: “I wish I knew a simple way, but there isn’t one.
“We know what works and we have to get people to realise that they have to protect themselves. For those who are against condom promotion, it’s about protecting public health and educating the young.
“It does not mean that with condom promotion we are going to stand at every street corner and shout ‘condoms’ or have a condom parade.
“Those things are not in keeping with our culture, but it does mean that we have to educate people about risks.”
IAMD is observed worldwide on the third Sunday in May to remember those who lost their lives to AIDS.
Earlier, HIV-positive persons and representatives from margi- nalised communities, NGOs and the government, released 21 doves to represent the 21 years HIV/AIDS has been in the country.

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