Sunday, 19 July 2009

Times: Sexual health policy stresses education on contraception

Saturday, 18th July 2009 by Fiona Galea Debono

The national sexual health policy should not warn people to abstain from sex but educate them on the use of condoms and contraceptives, the Social Affairs Committee has decided.

Education in favour of sexual health had to be prioritised in the policy together with how a couple could mature in a relationship.

Information on abstinence and contraceptives had to be clear and free of taboos and prejudice and a campaign should be launched according to age and area. Some required a more persistent approach due to particular social conditions.

Educators were, however, faced with the prevalent attitude of youths that "what happens to others would not happen to them".

Genitourinary clinic director Philip Carabott, who met the committee, maintained that 30 minutes of sexual health education in personal and social development (PSD) lessons was too little and the education reform should address the matter.

As regards a television campaign in favour of sexual health, he pointed out that adverts of a social nature were no longer permitted for free, which was increasing the burden on the Health Promotion Department.

The committee felt family doctors had a vital role to play both in education on sexually transmitted diseases and also in the case of research on the subject, which was lacking. They should study the particular local problems, it was suggested.

Statistics available were only the tip of the pyramid and doctors had the responsibility to notify the authorities on the sexually transmitted diseases they came across in accordance with the law and for the good of society.

The need for more responsibility and coordination between specialists was also felt and guidelines were required in this regard.

The committee will be holding a series of meetings for stakeholders to avoid confusion through mixed messages.

It has recommended an interactive programme on the internet, offering students the opportunity to learn more about sexual health, while sex education programmes should be set up in the community for youths who have finished school, are more at risk, or living in relative poverty.

The committee pointed out that the GU clinic could not remain the only place where people could seek help and cure. Its services had to be replicated, particularly in Gozo, where there were no similar services.

The number of persons infected by sexual diseases continued to increase over the years, raising alarm bells because the number of infected Maltese could potentially be much higher.

According to the World Health Organisation, due to Malta's culture, size and geography, about 13,000 persons could be infected every year.

In 2000, the GU clinic, which compiled the data, had 760 patients. These shot up to 2,221 in 2007, during which year 75 per cent were new, 40 were aged between 15 and 24, another 40 were over 40 years old, 71 per cent were single and 18 married.

The majority (89 per cent) of patients were heterosexuals and most attended the clinic on a personal initiative; 17.6 per cent were referred by a doctor and 3.7 per cent by Caritas.

Another preoccupation is the increasing percentage of causal sexual relations and the fact that infected persons do not know from whom they contracted the disease. This could be the result of being under excessive influence of alcohol and drugs.

Moreover, 70 per cent of the clinic's users have said they never used contraceptives.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times'website.]

Sexual Health Strategy document (in Maltese):

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