Malaysia Health Ministry Cannot Promote Condom Use To Prevent Spread of HIV, Official Says
Malaysia's Ministry of Health cannot openly promote condom use to prevent the spread of HIV because it could be misinterpreted as advocating promiscuity, deputy director for the Ministry of Health Jalal Halil Khalil said Sunday in conjunction with International AIDS Memorial Day, Malaysia's New Straits Times reports. Promotion of condom use will be handed over to nongovernmental organizations, including the Malaysian AIDS Council and its 37 affiliates, Khalil said.
According to the Times, there are about 75,000 HIV-positive people living in Malaysia, 70% of whom are injection drug users (Darshni, New Straits Times, 5/21). In addition, the government has said that transmission through heterosexual sex is increasing and noted a trend of increasing HIV incidence among women in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/13). Current efforts to combat the spread of the disease have targeted IDUs, commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men, the Times reports.
According to Khalil, the health ministry and the government are concerned about the increasing number of HIV cases recorded annually. However, the government cannot be seen as an advocate of condom use because it could be misinterpreted, Khalil said. "We realize that we are in an Islamic country, and we have to do things carefully," he said, adding, "That is why we have given this duty to nongovernmental organizations." According to Khalil, the government is aware that condoms are an effective method of preventing the spread of HIV, especially among marginalized groups like IDUs, MSM and sex workers. "The important thing is to prevent HIV/AIDS from spreading," he said, adding, "We have to give enough information to all levels of society. But changing knowledge to behavior is not easy."
Datuk Zaman Khan, trustee of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation, said he agreed that promoting condom use is the best method of controlling the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. He added that there are "so many taboos in this country," but "in reality, [premarital sex] happens."
MAC President Adeeba Kamarulzaman said, "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." She added, "We know what works, and we have to get people to realize that they have to protect themselves, ... it's about protecting public health and educating the young" (New Straits Times, 5/21).