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Tampin Clinic Gets WHO Recognition

20 Nov

TAMPIN: The Tampin Health Clinic has been recognised by the World Health Organisation for the management and implementation of its methadone replacement therapy programme.

The local district clinic emerged the top treatment centre for incorrigible drug addicts, beating 50 countries, including the United States, Europe, Africa, Australia and other countries in Asia.

Its Reduced Drug Dependence negotiation specialist, Dr Robert Power, said throughout his 23-year career, he found that the clinic here had the best management in implementing the programme compared with centres in 50 countries.

“The problems faced by clinics around the world are the same. There are no differences. But the Tampin Health Clinic has proved that they are able to overcome the obstacles,” he said after attending a briefing.

“The success of this centre should be an example to others and I will recommend centres abroad to visit the Tampin Health Clinic to learn from its experience.”
He added that he was very impressed with the teamwork shown by the clinic and its cooperation with various government agencies and non-governmental organisations.

Also present were state Health Department deputy director Dr Omar Mihat and the clinic’s family medicine specialist Dr Norsiah Ali, who said the programme was initiated three years ago with 10 former addicts.

She said the figure increased to 121 participants with the cooperation of departments in the state such as the District Office, Agriculture and Fisheries Department, Veterinary Services Department and the district rehabilitation centre.

Dr Norsiah said the pioneer projects like the “Clean Needle Exchange” and “Free Condom Distribution” programme to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS began on July 14.

“To date, we have 29 participants in the programmes, of whom 52 per cent (15 persons) have stopped using needles, and are now under the methadone replacement therapy programme.”

New Straits Times

Singaporeans Knowledgeable About HIV/AIDS, But Stigma Remains

16 Oct

SINGAPORE : A nation-wide survey by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) showed that while Singaporeans are knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS, they are less accepting of those with the disease.

In Singapore, HIV is mainly spread through sexual activity. Yet, only one in five of those who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour – such as those who engage in casual sex or have multiple sex partners – use a condom consistently.

Some groups are concerned that many do not understand the importance of condoms in preventing HIV transmission.

“Condom use is still very much a taboo subject in Singapore, and most of the general population would relate the use of condom as a form of contraception, as opposed to preventing HIV/AIDS or even sexually-transmitted infections,” said Lionel Lee, executive director for Action for AIDS.

With the rate of sexually-transmitted infections among youths also increasing, Action for AIDS said the need to promote condom use goes beyond HIV prevention.

The survey also found that one in three are unaware that a person can be HIV positive, and still look healthy and lead a normal life.

This is a serious misconception, because it may prevent people from going for regular screenings if they engage in high-risk sexual behaviour, or they may fail to protect themselves with the use of condoms, if their sexual partners look healthy.

The survey of 1,768 people showed that although 68 per cent of the respondents agree that they cannot get HIV by simply sharing a meal with an infected individual, only 22.4 per cent or one in five will do so.

In addition, only 18.2 per cent of respondents said they will buy food from a person whom they know is infected.

But the stigma appears less for close relatives, with 54.1 per cent or over half of the respondents saying that they will care for an infected family member.

“If people are more accepting towards people with HIV, then they are more likely, should they be at risk, to come forward for testing because they may not be so fearful of being discriminated against,” said Dr Chan Mei Fen, deputy director of Research and Evaluation Department at the Health Promotion Board.

According to Action for AIDS, one way to remove the stigma is to put a face to the disease.

While recognising that individuals may be reluctant to step forward, it said that it is an important first step, and government agencies can help ease the problems of discrimination.

Over 80 per cent of respondents knew of at least two of the following preventive measures – sexual abstinence, sexual monogamy and condom use. But the level of awareness was the lowest among those aged between 18 and 29.

The HPB said previous education campaigns had been targeted at older Singaporeans, and with the new information, future efforts may be better aimed at the different groups.

The HPB plans to launch a series of awareness efforts, including a concert next month to commemorate World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1.

The concert, called “Love Amplified”, will be held on November 29, in time for World AIDS Day. Other plans include a Chinese-language drama series titled “By My Side”, jointly developed with MediaCorp. – CNA /ls

Channel News Asia

Contraception Awareness Among Teenagers Severely Lacking

27 Sep

SINGAPORE : September 27 is World Contraception Day and some health groups in Singapore are taking the opportunity to call for improved education on the choices and usage of contraception, in light of increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections among teenagers.

It has been eight years since schools started teaching about sex and contraception but it seems students are still woefully ignorant.

In a survey of 240 youths aged 15 to 20, it was found that 30 per cent thought washing the genitals after sex could prevent pregnancy while 15 per cent believed urinating will do the same.

16 percent believed that exercising vigorously after sex will help shed off sperm, thus preventing pregnancy.

The survey, conducted by pharmaceutical company Bayer Schering Pharma and with doctors advising on the study, found that about 1 in 4 youths engage in sexual activity and about half of them are not using contraceptives.

Said Dr Janet Lee, a general practitioner at Temasek Medical Centre: “I do see teenagers with unwanted pregnancies, and a lot of times, they do not even realise that they are pregnant because it never occurred to them they can be pregnant through unprotected sex.

“Their mindset is that it will not happen to me… I think we need to educate youths about the importance of abstinence, and also educating them about condom use and contraceptive pills so as to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

Teenagers account for about 12 percent of abortion numbers every year, and the number of teenagers with sexually transmitted infections has also doubled in the last decade.

The Ministry of Education has made it compulsory for all schools to have a sexuality education programme, but it seems the message is still not getting through to all teenagers.

Some said it’s because teachers gloss over sexuality education. Others feel teenagers may be too embarrassed to ask questions about sex in class.

“It is not just enough for the schools to be teaching, or for the VWOs to come in. They (teenagers) need to be guided to the right sources of information, and parents can also play a part to be more open, to encourage their teenagers to approach them if they have questions about sex. But I think this will take time, as we are still a pretty conservative society,” said Joanne Tan, spokesperson for the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association. – CNA /ls

Channel News Asia

More Youths Contract Sexually-Transmitted Infections

15 Sep

SINGAPORE: The number of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) among youths in Singapore has nearly doubled in the past ten years.

Latest figures by the Ministry of Health (MOH) showed that 418 of every 100,000 people aged 15 to 24 had contracted a sexually-transmitted infection, compared to 213 in 1998.

In the last five years, the number of females infected have outnumbered males. 479 females contracted STIs last year compared to 362 males.

A Students’ Health Survey, which was last conducted in 2006, also found that students as young as Secondary 3 and 4 have had sexual intercourse. And of these, 24 per cent were sexually active, having sex at least five times within 12 months.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan released these figures in Parliament on Monday in response to a written question from MP for Hong Kah GRC, Zaqy Mohamad.

Mr Khaw added that the National University of Singapore is conducting a survey to study the correlation factors, including the socio-economic and educational backgrounds.

He said there are programmes to address the rising trend, including working with youth organisations.

The Health Promotion Board also runs sexually-transmitted infections and AIDS awareness programmes. These are targeted at Secondary 3 students, covering issues such as abstinence and condom use. – CNA/vm

Channel News Asia

Cambodia Faces New HIV Threat As ‘Condom Campaign At Risk’

10 Sep

PHNOM PENH: Threats to a successful Cambodian condom campaign had raised fears the country could experience a second epidemic of the disease, health officials said Wednesday.

Tia Phalla, of Cambodia’s National AIDS Authority, said the country’s so-called 100 percent condom use programme, which provides sex education and distributes condoms to sex workers, “is facing difficulties” because of a new anti-sex trafficking law and lack of financial support.

Police began a crackdown on brothels after the new law was passed in February, which has reportedly forced prostitutes to leave condoms behind as they move from place to place.

“Enforcement of the anti-trafficking law harms the 100 percent condom use in brothels,” Tia Phalla told a three-day national AIDS conference in Phnom Penh.

The percentage of sex workers who consistently used condoms with clients had already begun to drop to 94 percent in 2007 from 96 percent in 2003, according to AIDS authority data.

Additionally, only six of the country’s 24 provinces and cities currently have funds to carry out the programme, Tia Phalla said.

“The main risk of a second wave of HIV infections occurring in Cambodia is from female sex workers, their clients and sweethearts,” said a statement by the AIDS authority.

Before the 100 percent condom use programme began, Cambodia’s overall HIV rate was the worst in the region, peaking at 3.7 percent of the population in 1997. Rates among prostitutes were estimated at 40 percent.

The aggressive condom and sex education campaign is believed to have helped drop Cambodia’s overall HIV prevalence to 0.9 percent.

– AFP/yt

Channel News Asia

Cambodia Faces New HIV Threat As 'Condom Campaign At Risk'

10 Sep

PHNOM PENH: Threats to a successful Cambodian condom campaign had raised fears the country could experience a second epidemic of the disease, health officials said Wednesday.

Tia Phalla, of Cambodia’s National AIDS Authority, said the country’s so-called 100 percent condom use programme, which provides sex education and distributes condoms to sex workers, “is facing difficulties” because of a new anti-sex trafficking law and lack of financial support.

Police began a crackdown on brothels after the new law was passed in February, which has reportedly forced prostitutes to leave condoms behind as they move from place to place.

“Enforcement of the anti-trafficking law harms the 100 percent condom use in brothels,” Tia Phalla told a three-day national AIDS conference in Phnom Penh.

The percentage of sex workers who consistently used condoms with clients had already begun to drop to 94 percent in 2007 from 96 percent in 2003, according to AIDS authority data.

Additionally, only six of the country’s 24 provinces and cities currently have funds to carry out the programme, Tia Phalla said.

“The main risk of a second wave of HIV infections occurring in Cambodia is from female sex workers, their clients and sweethearts,” said a statement by the AIDS authority.

Before the 100 percent condom use programme began, Cambodia’s overall HIV rate was the worst in the region, peaking at 3.7 percent of the population in 1997. Rates among prostitutes were estimated at 40 percent.

The aggressive condom and sex education campaign is believed to have helped drop Cambodia’s overall HIV prevalence to 0.9 percent.

– AFP/yt

Channel News Asia

Anti-Pope Fashion Parade Held Ahead Of Australian Visit

9 Jul

SYDNEY: Australians protesting against Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Sydney took a creative turn on Wednesday, staging a fashion show of T-shirts displaying anti-Catholic slogans.

The show, a response to new laws against causing “annoyance” to pilgrims attending Catholic World Youth day next week, came just a day after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on all Australians to show the Pope respect.

“They are not from Milan,” acknowledged Rachel Evans, spokeswoman of the NoToPope group, as T-shirts featuring slogans such as “The Pope is wrong, put a condom on” were displayed outside the New South Wales state parliament.

Other shirts, which are selling for US$19, read “Pope go homo”, “There is no God” and “Does the history of your church annoy you?”

Among the most graphic was one featuring Benedict XVI standing with arms outstretched but with pointed, red devil ears and a tail superimposed on the image under the slogan “Chief Homophobe”.

NoToPope, a coalition including Christians, atheists and gay groups, was protesting at new regulations giving police power to stop conduct that “causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants” in World Youth Day.

Failure to comply with the laws can attract a penalty of up to $5,500, prompting one designer last week to come up with a T-shirt reading “$5,500, a small price to pay for annoying Catholics.”

Evans slammed the laws, which will be in force for the duration of the July 15-20 World Youth Day and may threaten a NoToPope rally planned for July 19, during which members plan to hand out condoms to pilgrims.

“This again is an attempt to intimidate people to not come to our rally and say their piece against the Pope,” she told reporters.

World Youth Day is a global celebration of the Catholic faith aimed at young people and is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of local and foreign pilgrims.

– AFP/os

Channel News Asia

Community: Getting Them To Use It Is The Hardest Part

3 May

It is the most widely used contraceptive in the country, and yet no one is supposed to talk about it. With the emergence of 6,000 new HIV cases each year, Malaysians can’t afford to be silent about condoms anymore, writes CHAI MEI LING.

THE adage HIV/AIDS does not choose its victims has never rung so true up until now.

More housewives than sex workers tested positive for HIV in 2006.

In that same year, 36 per cent of those infected were youths between 13 and 29 years old.

Shocking revelations, but not when the figures are dissected and the reasons behind them revealed.
Malaysians in general are well aware of HIV preventive methods – eight out of 10 correctly named condom use – but knowledge doesn’t translate into practice.

Some studies rate condom use at 20 per cent while others 80.

Dr Soraya Aziz, a consultant to the United Nations Development Programme’s project on HIV/AIDS & Islam, says she’s taking the 80 per cent figure with a pinch of salt.

“From talking to people, we get the impression that Malaysian men are quite resistant to using the condom.”

And public input for her study reveals that many don’t even know how to put a condom on.

“A lot of people say to me, ‘Yeah, we know what a condom is, but actually how do you use it?’ This is especially true of the younger people.”

Prevention of HIV/AIDS through sexual intercourse is as easy as ABC – both literally and figuratively – abstinence, being faithful to one’s partner, and condom use.

Condoms do not guarantee a 100 per cent safety net, says condom exporter Clinton Ang, but it is the safest method to prevent sexually transmitted infections and the most cost effective.

The male condom comes in just one size, doesn’t break easily if used with water-based lubricants, and is so strong that it is recommended by the British Special Forces to be included into the survival kit because it can hold up to 18 litres of water.

Ang says non-governmental organisations working on HIV prevention use 50 to 70 per cent of their funds on condom procurement alone at any one prevention programme.

In containing the infection spread, it makes sense that people argue abstinence and being faithful are effective methods, says Dr Soraya.

“But if you tell people only about abstinence and don’t give them an option – if they want to have sex, they won’t know how to practise safe sex. So abstinence is not good enough on its own.

“That’s why we have to talk about the A, B and C.”

The reality, in Malaysia at least, is people do not talk about condom at all.

Condom myths, such as that they break easily and reduce sexual pleasure, have made their rounds more than once.

But the biggest misconception locally, even if it’s never said out loud, is condoms are associated with people who are promiscuous and immoral.

Many forget that the first condoms were invented to prevent pregnancies. It started off with family planning.

A case lost in translation, perhaps, but no amount of information can right this negative perception if the issues surrounding sex remain a taboo subject.

Cultural sensitivities make talking about condoms doubly hard because one has to pass through the first layer of sensitivity on sex in general, before overcoming the second barrier on condoms in order to get the message on safe sex across.

Dr Soraya says Malaysians need to speak about health related issues as they are because sex is part of life, and especially when lives of young people are at risk due to ignorance of HIV and other STIs.

Although religions prohibit pre- and extra-marital sex, it shouldn’t stop religious scholars from talking about condom use within marital relations because there’s a growing number of wives being infected by their husbands, she adds.

“For marginalised groups like sex workers and transsexuals, we have to find other channels. But we have a door open here, why not use that open door to talk about condoms?”

From the UNDP project, Dr Soraya found that many religious professionals don’t promote condom use, but they accept medical practitioners stepping in to do so.

“We cannot expect the religious authorities to speak the same language as the NGOs and medical professionals.”

The female condom is a great option in helping overcome the gender power imbalances with regards to condom use, says Dr Soraya.

It is currently not available in Malaysia, but will soon be made so as a United Kingdom-based female condom manufacturer has just set up a plant in Balakong and will introduce it to the local market.

It is pricey (RM13 in other countries) but the female condom takes away the need to have the man’s co-operation in using a barrier method for protection.

“It will put the power back into women’s hands.”

It’s a short-term measure in the fight for gender equality.

Leading by example

LAST week, the Iranian government installed five condom and syringe vending machines in Teheran as part of its fight against the spread of AIDS and hepatitis among drug users.

The harm reduction campaign might raise eyebrows but scores big in the HIV/AIDS prevention milestone.

Many countries have employed various ways in bringing down the number of infection, but Senegal is probably the best example how a Muslim-majority country was able to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic, says Dr Soraya Aziz.

As its neighbouring countries in sub Saharan Africa struggle with booming HIV/AIDS rates, Senegal has managed to keep its number of infection down to less than one per cent of the population.

The decisive factor was that Muslim religious leaders were brought onto the agenda of HIV/AIDS prevention very early on, says Dr Soraya.

The country’s leaders consulted very early on with the religious leaders, who talked openly about safe sex and reproductive health issues nationwide.

“It’s possible, even in a Muslim-majority country, to do such a thing.”

In Bangladesh, religious authorities and imams undergo training programmes, which touch on HIV/AIDS, gender equality and reproductive health, before they assume their role.

Because of the cultural sensitivities surrounding sex and reproductive health issues, it also makes sense to overcome the gender barrier by having women communicate with their peers, says Dr Soraya.

Mosques in China have not only male imams, but also female counterparts who reach out to the women in the congregation.

“If we need to talk about such difficult topics, perhaps female religious leaders would be more appropriate in conveying the message to the female part of the congregation.”

Malaysia, too, has good practices, says Dr Soraya.

For example, the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) and PT Foundation have been holding religious classes for the transsexual community for the last four years.

“That may not translate to talking about practising safe sex and condom use, but when you have interfaces between the religious authorities and marginalised groups, you begin to have a better understanding of the needs of regular people in dealing with the issues of HIV/AIDS.”

What they say:

Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin,
Perlis Mufti

Islam’s stance on condom use outside of marriage, even for the reason of prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS, is non-negotiable, says the Perlis Mufti.

It is permitted within marriage for spacing of children and as a means to protect a spouse from being infected with sexually transmitted diseases by the other half, but condoms can never be misused for immoral sexual activities, says Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin.

The doors of religion must remain closed on the subject of condom use in the context of unmarried couples.

“We don’t want to open the doors, because that’s an encouragement for people to do it (have sex outside of marriage).

“That is why all religions do not delve on this topic. All religions preach abstinence.

“If you want to have sex, get married first.”

Muhamad Kasim Mohd Osman
Religious teacher in PT Foundation elected by the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi)

Use a condom if you or your spouse is infected with a sexually transmitted infection to prevent it from spreading in the family institution itself, says religious teacher Muhamad Kasim Mohd Othman.

“A husband who’s infected, by all means, should protect his wife. Don’t put her and the unborn’s lives on the line.”

The Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department-elected teacher is well aware of the prevalence of
HIV/AIDS cases in the capital.

He provides religious guidance for transsexuals, one of the high-risked communities PT Foundation works with on HIV prevention, support and care programmes.

Condom can also be used for family planning, but it should not be permanent feature, he says.

“In Islam, the function of a family is clearly spelled out. Procreation is very important.”

For unmarried people, abstinence works best in the prevention against HIV/AIDS.

Religion equips one with the self-discipline and inner strength needed to resist temptations like sexual desires, says Muhamad Kasim.

Even if one has not the adequate religious upbringing, high moral and discipline will help in such challenging situations.

Asked to comment on Tehran’s initiative in installing condom vending machines as part of their harm reduction programme to bring down the number of HIV/AIDS cases amongst the drug users, Muhamad Kasim says this will not necessarily work out if applied in Malaysia.

“Other countries might be able to view this matter in a more open manner, but Malaysia is still very entrenched in our cultures, moral and religions. In our multi-racial setting, we hold strong to our culture.”

The way forward is for the relevant parties to reach a common ground, he says.

The religious sector, medical professionals, and the society must discuss on issues on condom use because it’s a sensitive matter which concerns the whole community.

“People get confused and conflicts arise when there’s no synchronisation. Religions say no, society frowns upon it, but for medical reasons, you have to use it. We need answers.”

Datuk A. Vaithilingam
President of Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism; Malaysia Hindu Sangam President; and Vice President of Malaysian AIDS Council

When former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi introduced a two-children-per-family campaign to control the high birth rate in India many years ago, condom was one of the widely used contraceptives.

Hinduism has never opposed to the use of condom as a family planning method, and definitely not in the case of prevention against diseases.

The main fear, however, is that it can be misused, says Malaysia Hindu Sangam president Datuk A. Vaithilingam.

“The urge to have free sex is always there. The urge to do anything is always there. But there must be some discipline within ourselves.

“We believe that sex should only be practised with the person you are entitled to, that is your husband or wife.”

The President of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism also says the practice of pre- or extra-marital sex is a reality.

However, religions do not promote condom use to unmarried couples because it’s a sign of condoning sex outside of marriage.

This is why, he says, condom-dispensing machines are not proper channels of distribution.

“It’s very controversial. If you have these in colleges, it’ll be an open ticket to free sex. Instead of discouraging, it might be an encouraging factor.”

Should condoms be distributed, it should be done by relevant bodies dealing with HIV/AIDS prevention like the AIDS Council, says Datuk Vaithilingam.

“Religious authorities normally leave it to the medical practitioners to make decisions on condom use, but whatever the doctor prescribes, it doesn’t mean you go on having free sex.”

Pastor Pax Tan
Senior director of the Malaysian Christian Association for Relief

Malaysians are generally religious people, and religion has much to do with morality and working within boundaries and rules to keep the social fabric intact.

However, in the face of increasing adversities posed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the nation, religious authorities may have to reconsider their measures in addressing this issue, says Pastor Pax Tan.

“In this age, when sex has been proven as something increasingly done outside of marriage and among the youths, and we don’t seem to be able to stop that, then we have to think how to prevent diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

“These are issues that even the religious people have to face.”

Tan, who has been working on the ground dealing with prisoners, drug users, the disabled, orang asli and the HIV-positive for the last 24 years, says immoral sexual activities can best be prevented by correct teaching and moral practice.

Religion acts as a deterrent for the religious.

“But what if people still engage in sex outside of marriage? Given the prevailing moods of the day and the sense of freedom that people have to express themselves, it’s very, very difficult for some to refrain from that.

“Then the next thing to do, of course, is to prevent disease and pregnancies that are not planned for.”

Does that put condom as a resort, albeit the last one?

“Yes, if the person persists to do what he wants to do.”

If there’s persistence in having sex outside of the marriage, says Tan, there should be harm reduction, especially in the light of HIV/AIDS and STDs.

“Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. HIV/AIDS has now painted a brand new landscape and we have to respond in a special way. Prevention of this virus is definitely high priority.”

HIV/AIDS, says Tan, is more of a gender and economic issue.

A lot of women are not in the position to deny their spouse or protect themselves, which is why at one point in time, World Health Organisation statistics showed that up to 90 per cent of women, who have the virus, got it from the husbands.

This is especially true in very poor countries, where women have no say, says Tan.

“In Malaysia, many still can’t say no to sex if their husbands insist. A condom can prevent the wife from being infected. But the question is whether the husband will actually want to use a condom.”

In his outreach and support programmes, Tan has encountered numerous widows and children who have been infected with HIV.

Religion plays a double-pronged role – prevention and help – in combating this issue, says Tan.

Acting as a deterrent, religion helps people to refrain from indulging in acts that will endanger themselves and others.

But religion is also about compassion.

“When someone is infected, it’s our role to help that someone. We can say that what the person has done is wrong, but we cannot condemn. Religion must help to redeem.”

But for that to happen, Tan says one must be armed with facts and education.

“Being religious is good, but if one doesn’t know about the virus and how it’s spread, he won’t be able to respond in a compassionate way.

“Condemning, ostracising, discriminating and not caring for them, doesn’t improve the situation any bit.”

HIV/AIDS is not a punishment from God, says Tan.

“Say, a poor lady gets the virus because she cannot protect herself. A rich woman sleeps around but because she knows about AIDS and how to protect herself, she doesn’t get HIV.

“Does that mean God didn’t punish her but God punished a woman who slogs in the kitchen every day and does all the housework, and who had sex with the husband who got infected outside?”

New Straits Times

Number Of New HIV Cases Hit Record High Of 422 In 2007

29 Apr

SINGAPORE: Latest figures from the Ministry of Health (MOH) showed 422 new cases of HIV infection were detected in Singapore in 2007, the highest in a single year since 1985. MOH added that 93 per cent of the cases were men.

This brings the total number of reported cases as of end-2007 to 3,482. Out of these cases, 1,534 are carriers showing no symptoms, while 804 have AIDS-related illnesses and 1,144 have died.

MOH said sexual transmission remains the main mode of HIV infection resulting in 95 per cent of the new cases. Out of the 422 new cases, 255 were infected during heterosexual sex. Meanwhile, 130 of them caught HIV through homosexual activity, a 38 per cent rise compared to 2006.

One reason for the increase in this group could be due to more screening.

29 per cent of homosexuals had their HIV detected during voluntary screening compared to just 5 per cent of heterosexuals. Action for Aids said this is a result of greater awareness arising from more intensive and targeted campaigns for men who have sex with men.

Meanwhile, infection via intravenous drug use halved from 14 cases in 2006 to seven last year.

One case saw HIV being contracted through blood transfusion overseas and is the first such reported case in the past six years.

57 per cent of all new cases reported in 2007 were Singapore citizens and permanent residents between 30 and 49 years of age. About one-eighth of the cases were between 20 and 29 years of age.

Ten people aged under 20 were diagnosed HIV positive. Of these, one was a baby infected by his mother during pregnancy.

Action for Aids said: “More young persons are having sex and at a younger age. Programmes meant for young people must address all aspects of sexual behaviour, including homosexuality and condom use, otherwise those most at risk will not be helped.”

According to the ministry, 53 per cent of the new cases already had late stage HIV infection when they were diagnosed.

Only 13 per cent of new cases were detected through voluntary screening, while most had their HIV status detected while they were undergoing some form of medical care.

In its annual HIV/AIDS update, the health ministry urged those engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour to use condoms properly and go for HIV testing regularly. – CNA/vm

Channel News Asia

DANGEROUS LIAISONS

19 Apr

Most Malaysians don’t talk about oral sex but assume everyone does it – or have tried to. Crime or no crime, many of us don’t think about what we put into our mouth in the heat of the moment. Never mind that we can get sexually transmitted diseases from it too, writes TAN CHOE CHOE

NINE out of 10 couples tell this writer that they engage in oral sex – either fellatio on the male partner or cunnilingus on the female – from time to time.

Of these, five are not married.

And surprisingly – or not – none of them use protection of any kind when they engage in the act.

These figures are in no way official statistics of any kind, but it gives a general idea of how Malaysians perceive oral sex.

“Malaysians are not as na ve as they’re made out to be – or some sectors of society think they are – especially the younger group.

“Many of them have liberal views on sex,” says Raymond Tai, PT Foundation acting executive director.

If the results of this writer’s informal survey are any indication, many Malaysians may be doing it without protection of any kind.

“Most people I’ve come across only think it’s necessary to use protection when it comes to vaginal or anal sexual intercourse,” s ay s Tai.

The fact that oral sex cannot cause pregnancy makes many couples feel they don’t need to wear contraceptives as they take “the fun out of oral”.

Tai says it’s not easy to target HIV/AIDS awareness messages to the public to practise safe oral sex in Malaysia .

“Because there is so much hang-ups in talking about sex, which is the main transmission mode for HIV.” How do you go about advising people on how to protect themselves against STDs from oral sex, when the act itself is a crime? Under Section 377A of the Penal code, ‘any person who has sexual connection with another person by the introduction of the penis into the anus or mouth of the other person is said to commit carnal intercourse against the order of nature’.

In layman speak, it means it’s a crime for any man to engage in anal sex or penile oral sex – fellatio.

The offence is punishable by a jail term of up to 20 years and whipping, as stated under Section 377B.

“It doesn’t allow people to openly talk about oral sex. If you do, you’re incriminating yourself by the mere fact that yo u ‘re talking about it,” says Tai.

Tai says if one were to look at the issue from the perspective of local media and the law, “it’s as though Malaysians don’t do oral sex – which is far from the tr uth!” And contrary to what some people may think, “oral sex is not safer sex, as STDs like gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes and HIV can still be transmitted,” says Dr Christopher Lee Kwok Choong, president of the Malaysian Society of HIV Medicine.

“The risks may be lower, but the potential of transmission is still present.

So if oral sex is practised, a condom should still be used,” says Dr Lee.

The same applies during cunnilingus, which strangely, the law doesn’t prohibit.

Some couples use dental dams over the vulva before proceeding with the oral stimulation .

These thin squares of latex rubber are also known as Kofferdam in Europe and they’re commonly used in dentistr y.

However, Tai says feedback from the public shows that many don’t use protection because “it isn’t practical, is no fun and spoils the spontaneity”.

HIV transmission occur during fellatio when an infected man’s pre-ejaculation and seminal fluid gets into contact with any open sore or cut in his partner’s mouth.

“So take simple precautions – do not take oral if you have mouth sores. Tell your partner to refrain from ejaculating in the mouth,” says Tai There are smaller quantities of HIV in the pre-ejaculation fluid compared to semen.

“Couples will have to decide for themselves what levels of risk to take. Still, oral sex is by far safer than unprotected sexual or anal intercourse in getting HIV.” But the risk of getting other STDs is still there, especially if it is between casual partners, and you don’t know the history of their sexual practices.

LAW DISCRIMINATES AGAINST MEN

TO date, no one has been prosecuted under Section 377A of the Penal Code for engaging in fellatio, according to the Attorney- General’s Chambers.

“Yet it continues to hang over us, creating a lot of fear and intimidation simply because it’s so specific,” says Raymond Tai, PT Foundation acting executive director.

“It’s made a lot of consensual sexual activities between couples, married or unmarried, illegal.” He also feels the law is discriminating against men.

“If you look at the way it’s phrased, it looks as though it’s only the men, the person who inserts the penis into the mouth of another, who will be prosecuted.

“Why is the law sexist like this? It means the woman will go scot free, whether it’s consensual or otherwise.” However, Tai is quick to point out that he is not lobbying for the woman partner to be made liable.

He says many of his colleagues who are married for over 20 years have indulged in oral sex and regard it as an important component to foreplay and a healthy sexual lifestyle.

“To say it is illegal just doesn’t make sense.” Tai believes that the initial purpose of the law was to protect women from being victimised sexually by their male partners.

However, Professor Datin Rashidah Shuib of the Women Development Research Centre in Universiti Sains Malaysia doesn’t think so.

“It doesn’t seem to be the case. The element of consent or force should be taken into account,” says Rashidah.

“The law needs to be amended so that anything t h at ‘s consensual should not be under the purview of the state. Only when it’s not then it should be taken care of by the law.” In January, former Bar Council president Yeo Yang Poh criticised this law as obsolete and should be repealed.

He said that if it was really enforced, “over 95 per cent of (adult) Malaysians would be put in jail”.

It is uncertain where this law originated from, but some believe it is chiefly British in origin and dates back to the Victorian era.

“It was in the Indian Penal Code and I believe our Malaysian Penal Code was based on the Indian code,” Yeo tells the New Sundayῠ Times.

Regardless of its origin, Yeo says the law reflected the sort of moral values and perceptions of “decades ago where these (sexual acts) were seen as offences that needed to be punished”.

Yet, they remain in our statute books, despite changes in times and thinking.

“I think by and large, societies have progressed and our thinking has changed. Such matters between consenting adults are no longer frowned upon by the majority of the people today.” Citing the recent case of former Health Minister Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek who was caught indulging in oral sex with a woman, Yeo points out that no action was taken against him despite the existence of Section 377A.

“I’m certainly not suggesting that action be taken against him. I’m just saying that any such acts between consenting adults should not be policed by the s t at e .

“It ought to be removed from our statute. Singapore has done away with it.” In the city-state’s first major penal code amendments in 22 years, Singapore repealed a section of its Penal Code that criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” in October last year.

The act effectively decriminalised oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples.

“The emphasis must always be on ‘consenting adults’. These two elements – consenting and adults – are very important.

“Otherwise, it would amount to rape, although (anal sex) is currently not within the definition of rape.” Yeo, who advocates for Section 377A to be repealed, asks: “How many of our parliamentarians can say they’ve never engaged in that (oral or anal sex)?” He adds that the element of public morality is not there if such acts are done in the privacy of one’s home or room.

“Anything that happens in the bedroom between two consenting adults shouldn’t be policed by the state.”

IS ORAL DIRTY?

DEFINITELY not, says Professor Datin Rashidah Shuib of Universiti Sains Malaysia, “not if it’s between two consenting, married adults”.

Prof Dr Low Wah Yun from Universiti Malaya puts it like this: “Who are we to say whether a sexual act is dirty or not normal? “As long as the couple is agreeable and both are happy and consent to the act, then it shouldn’t be anybody’s business to say it’s dirty or not,” says Low, a psychologist from UM’s Health Research Development Unit.

Housewife Rosie (not her real name) has been married for 21 years and thinks of oral sex as “something very intimate that you would do with the one you really love and care about”.

Rosie, 49, says she does it with her husband because she wants to please him, and vice-versa.

“We started trying oral sex even before we got married and we learnt how to please each other by experimenting,” says Rosie, who has a 20-year-old daughter.

Rosie says she never thought she would do “such a thing” before she knew her husband, “but when I did it with him, it was a different thing altogether.

“It makes me feel happy that I’m able to please him.” Rosie admits she didn’t know oral sex was a criminal offence until two years ago wh
en she went for an AIDS awareness programme under PT Foundation.

“It’s madness! All my friends do it, regardless of their creed or ethnicity. And everyone I asked didn’t know it’s illegal.” Low says oral sex is part of the sexual activities that people generally engage in and there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it gives them pleasure.

“However, the concept of oral sex is very different among teenagers. They think ‘hey my teacher says I can get HIV through intercourse, let’s do oral sex instead’,” she says.

There’s no hard data to prove this, but Low is convinced that many teenagers are turning to oral sex now, which is the trend in some western countries like United States.

She says the US is also seeing about one out of every four teenage girl contracting sexually transmitted disease now.

“So it’s very important we have a more open discourse on this and educate our youngsters on the risks involved, whether it’s intercourse or oral sex.”

New Straits Times