Saturday, 10 December 2011

Independent: Why? Why? Why?

by Dr Joe Cassar, Health Minister
Article published on 22 November 2011

Over a number of years, different drafts were developed, reviewed, revised, and re-developed. When I took office, I set the launch of a sexual health strategy high on my agenda. Why?

It was evident to me, as am sure with so many others, that specifically addressing the sexual health of all individuals in our country was an essential, not merely an important element of our quest to enhance health for all, which is the ultimate mission of the ministry which I steer. This specific aspect of one’s health had been somewhat side-lined for many years, to the disappointment and also the detriment of many. Why?

Historically, sex carried an “aura” of silence, of limited reference and limited discussion, particularly so in our country. Sexual health seems to have consequently been drawn under such umbrella of silence, resulting in limited policy, service, and research development pertaining to sexual health. Only the occasional drop which managed to escape or bounce off the referred wide umbrella managed to actually hit the ground in the last few years. The socio-cultural explanations to this unfavourable scenario are varied. However, discussions of such socio-cultural explanations carry limited scope now. Why?

We are now able to stand proud that we have broken through the silence, which had seriously compromised development regarding sexual health in our country on all counts. We are finally able to discuss the outcomes of the newly-established lines and contexts of discussion. We are now discussing a national sexual health strategy for Malta, and indeed its implementation.

Resource packs for the media, educational initiatives in and beyond schools for kids and youth, reaching out to other specific groups in our society as are gays and lesbians, older adults, people with disabilities, and sex workers, enhanced surveillance of disease prevalence and spread, and research initiatives which will provide us with information regarding our own specific context of Malta, are all steps we have directed in the strategy.

We have already embarked on some, and are discussing implementation, no longer merely the need of others. We are indeed proud of our achievements. Why?

Progress, initiatives and development in the absence of a directive framework are unfavourable. Through the sexual health strategy the much-needed framework has been made readily available. Moreover, the process of the development of the strategy provided the much-needed opportunity for discussion. The process of development helped address and perhaps overcome the lack of discussion, the somewhat silence, which had unfavourably strongly prevailed through the years.

Last year, we prepared a sexual health policy. Then we actively sought and managed a thorough discussion of the policy regarding, precisely and exclusively sexual health. Through such process we therefore invited and sustained much discussion with all ministries, the Church, all NGOs, associations, pressure and support groups, and all interested individuals in the public, regarding sexual health. In fact, we lengthened the period of discussion from the intended three-month period to three times the period. It is a milestone achievement which I proudly share with all those who have worked hard at getting to this stage, after so many years. We discussed with all and we launched a sexual health strategy. It may be hard to challenge why we are indeed proud!

I thank all involved, and moreover augur that we all continue to discuss and work towards the enhancement of the sexual health amongst the population of our country.

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