Malaysia still shy about condoms31st May 2007
Malaysian officials say they are reluctant openly to promote condom use for HIV/AIDS prevention purposes because they do not want to be seen as encouraging promiscuity.
Speaking on the subject of International AIDS Memorial Day, health minister Jalal Halil Khalil said condom campaigns were best handed to non-government groups like the Malaysian AIDS Council and its 37 affiliates.
Malaysia is currently home to around 75,000 people living with HIV. 70% of these inject drugs, according to the New Straits Times.
However, infection rates among women are on the rise, as is transmission of the virus during heterosexual sex, suggesting that current AIDS prevention strategies should be widened from drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Khalil said Malaysia is an Islamic country, and the government had to tread with care. He said giving information to all levels of society was necessary, although whether that information would change people's behaviour was unclear.
Datuk Zaman Khan, a trustee of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation, said he agreed that promoting condom use was the best method of controlling the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. He said there were "so many taboos in this country," but that premarital sex happened anyway.
Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, said ideal behaviour would involve people waiting until they were in a long-term monogamous relationship to become sexually active. But such ideals, she said, were not always reflected in real life. "We have to match that with pragmatism," she said, emphasising the need to persuade young people to protect themselves and to protect public health.
Health officials have warned that nearly 300,000 Malaysian residents could become HIV-positive by 2015 unless increased efforts are made to reduce the spread of the virus.
The health ministry says virus is spreading quickly among intravenous drug users, women, fishermen, truck drivers and factory workers.
Last year, the government launched a five-year national strategic plan to reduce HIV transmission, including increased access to drug substitution therapy and needle-exchange programs among drug users, and free antiretrovirals for women and children at government clinics.
But three people die daily from AIDS-related illnesses nationwide, and officials fear the impact of HIV could reverse the country's development.
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Title: Malaysia still shy about condoms
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 3006
Date Added: 31st May 2007