Tuesday, November 8, 2011, by Bertrand Borg, Ariadne Massa
Malta’s first sexual health strategy was released yesterday but putting its values into practice will require a “cultural change”.
Strategy has to be adopted by society, otherwise... we will have made no progress
“People should not expect overnight solutions,” said public health superintendent Ray Busuttil.
The strategy places greater emphasis on parental responsibility in sexual education, calls for research into sexual behaviour and announces new surveillance methods to better measure the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections.
The strategy describes current STI figures as “an underestimate of the true numbers”.
It also suggests physicians should be provided with guidelines to help them assess when they can ethically provide minors with sexual health services without parental consent.
Emphasising the strategy’s universality, Health Minister Joe Cassar insisted the strategy had to be adopted by all strands of society, “otherwise sexual health will simply remain a matter of sexually transmitted infections and we will have made absolutely no progress”.
It comes on the back of Malta’s national sexual health policy, which was launched in November 2010. The policy, which was 10 years in the making, underwent a series of revisions and redrafts before finally being launched last year. The strategy states that sex education will be adapted to suit the specific needs of various audiences, from classes at schools to sessions organised with local councils.
Minority groups such as sex workers, people living with HIV and minority ethnic groups will receive specifically targeted information.
A new sexual health clinic at Mater Dei Hospital will provide a range of sexual health services, from counselling and contraceptive advice to STI testing and treatment.
Dr Cassar declined to provide a timeframe on the new clinic’s launch, although a Health Ministry official had previously told The Sunday Times it is expected to open at the end of January.
In response to criticism of Malta’s existing sex education structures, which last year’s policy document described as “scanty and uncoordinated”, the strategy says the Health Ministry will work with the Education Directorate to improve teacher preparedness, better coordinate with parents and establish targets and standards for sex education in schools.
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