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Sex Education and The Malta Medical Students Assoc. - 18/1/2006

1. link to article in The Times

2. link to article in The Times

3. link to article in The Times


Standard sex education

Ms Roxanna Caruana, national officer on reproductive health, Malta Medical Students' Association, Guardamangia.

I refer to Mr Renč A. Cilia's letter entitled 'HIV/AIDS - getting the message across' (The Sunday Times, December 11) and Ms Jacqueline Calleja's 'AIDS lectures in schools' (The Times, December 13).

First of all, I must agree with Mr Cilia that this is a matter of saving lives and not morals - sins are forgiven, HIV is not.

As a young person, and one who speaks to many other young people on the topic, I am convinced that most of the population has received a very confused message, and there are various misconceptions.

It is high time Malta had a standardised sex education programme within all secondary schools, including Church schools. HIV is a reality, and as far as education is concerned, no one should be discriminated against.

Secondly, I refer to the ABCD pattern (Abstinence, Being faithful, Condomise, Don't do drugs) which is not only encouraged by the Health Promotion Department (HPD), but also by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS.

In an ideal world, this public health strategy would not be necessary, but unfortunately the prevalence of HIV is increasing both locally and worldwide. In the US, an Abstinence Only campaign has been taken up since 2002, with disappointing results. As quoted from the UNAIDS/WHO AIDS Epidemic Update (December 2005): "In the US, during 2003, there were approximately 32,000 new HIV cases (not including the states of New York and California)."

That young people are having sex is a reality, including teenagers from local secondary schools. In 2004 there were five deliveries (not pregnancies) to girls under the age of 15, and six per cent of all deliveries were to girls between 15-19 (NOIS, Annual Report, 2004).

What is even more worrying is that some of the people who have casual sex do not use barrier contraception at all; 63 per cent of all patients attending the GU clinic in 2004 had never used condoms.

Education should be global and complete, and available to all, as one cannot foresee who will be having sex and who will abstain. Education should be about facts, to help each individual make their own informed decisions. Allow me to say that in no instance would the axiom 'prevention is better than cure' hold better than in the case of HIV and AIDS.

In direct response to Ms Calleja, it is the norm for parents to have the best intentions for their children, but this does not necessarily add up to them knowing what is best. Especially in the light of widespread misinformation, I cannot agree with the idea that parents should have absolute power over their children's education. Perhaps it is high time that education campaigns targeted parents as well as youngsters.

Do children ask their parents before engaging in sexual contact? I would be inclined to say that they don't. We are sitting on a time-bomb, and it is about to go off. Let's prevent it. Education is our only hope.

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'Standard' sex education (1)
Mrs Jacqueline Calleja, Balzan.

Ms Roxanna Caruana, the national officer on reproductive health, Malta Medical Students' Association (The Sunday Times, December 25) said that "it is the norm for parents to have the best intentions for their children, but this does not necessarily add up to them knowing what is best. Especially in the light of widespread misinformation, I cannot agree with the idea that parents should have absolute power over their children's education."

This is very grave indeed and reminds us of the policies of totalitarian governments which, in their attempt to exclude parents from their children's education, decree that they know best what should be taught to children and that includes the fields of faith and morals.

Who then is to have the major say in the education of children, especially where sexual morality is concerned: the education authorities, the Health Promotion Unit, the Medical Students' Association or the parents? What happens to children who hear conflicting views about HIV prevention, who hear officials from the Health Promotion Department say that they should try to practise abstinence but however there is certainly a way out if they decide otherwise and that is by using condoms.

On the other hand, they hear parents who, mindful of the fact that the concept of safe sex is just a myth (figures confirm the soaring number of unplanned pregnancy in countries where sex education programmes devoid of Christian values have been held for decades), tell their children that only abstinence and fidelity are the safe way of avoiding HIV and unplanned pregnancy.

After all, if there is co-ordination between the education authorities and parents on the intake of drugs and the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, one really cannot see why it should be all that different where sexual morality is concerned.

Indeed, despite the young still consuming alcohol and taking up smoking, both parents and educators would never dream of telling them to take precautions when taking drugs, to drink just a little before driving, or, if unable to resist, to smoke only a few cigarettes a day.

We just tell them never to take drugs, neither to consume alcohol and drive, never to start smoking and to stop if they have already fallen into the habit of doing so.

Ms Caruana also refers to the "ABCD pattern (Abstinence, Being faithful, Condomise, Don't do drugs) which is not only encouraged by the Health Promotion Department (HPD), but also by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS."

This is worrying news indeed for Catholic parents since the United Nations is often criticised by the Catholic Church because of its stance in promoting worldwide use of contraception.

As a result, and because of the Church's teachings about sexual morality, there have been various repeated attempts by certain groups, especially so-called liberal Catholic groups, to have the Catholic Church, which enjoys observer status in the UN, expelled from this organisation.

It should be remembered that over two decades ago parents and educators took to the streets in this country to defend the rights of parents to send their children to the schools of their choice and have them taught according to Christian principles.

If schools, especially Catholic schools, are now allowing their students to be taught according to the ABCD strategy encouraged by the Health Promotion Unit, then it simply means that the struggle of over 20 years ago has sadly come to nought.

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Safer sex (2)
Professor Joseph M. Cacciottolo, head, Department of Medicine, University of Malta Medical School., Msida.

The annual negative reaction to the medical students' public-spirited campaign in the field of sex education is as predictable as much as it is amusing. The letters that appeared in The Sunday Times on January 1 were no exception.

That, for many years, medical students have been at the forefront of the delivery of sex education, in consonance with the Health Promotion Department, is certainly no accident.

Medical students are exposed to the reality and rawness of life earlier than most other university students. Consequently, as they mature, many of their opinion-based beliefs, and often their illusions, are discarded early. Indeed, this is encouraged both by their teachers and the method of their training.

On the other hand, ours is a free society, and there is no bar to belief in myths and living through delusion. However, this is no excuse to discredit the admirable work that is carried out by these students.

I sincerely hope that this year's drive by the Malta Medical Students' Association in the field of reproductive health and AIDS awareness will be even more widespread, successful and effective.




 
 
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