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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    2 July 2012

Indonesian MP’s upset over condom initiative


Indonesian debate over the distribution of free condoms as a preventative measure in the fight against HIV/AIDS has become political, with the newly-appointed Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi having to spar with members of the House of Representatives over the new policy yesterday.

Mboi reiterated that she had never made any statement on handing out free condoms to school students and teenagers.

"What I said in the press conference was that I am committed to realising the programmes of the late minister that have not yet been achieved. I said in the press conference that we had to lay out a long term system of national health and plan of action that deals with the basics, and this plan will hopefully run for the next 20 years. Unfortunately, a journalist misquoted my statement," Mboi said.

She also emphasised that there was no mention of the planned distribution of condoms in the press briefing.

The Monday hearing was Mboi’s first as health minister after she was sworn in to replace Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, who died of lung cancer on May 2.

The free condom plan dominated the meeting with lawmakers pressuring her over the new policy.

Iskan Qalba Lubis of the House’s Commission IX overseeing demographic affairs, health, manpower and transmigration and a member of the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said condoms could be an effective contraceptive but could also be easily abused.

"But if you don’t communicate this properly, you will lead people astray. I know that you’d rather see the issue of condom use from a medical perspective. But common people will see this issue from a moral perspective instead of a medical point of view. They will think that you are promoting free sex among the youth," he said.

Fellow PKS lawmaker Herlini Amran concurred with Lubis, saying that more education was needed before the government rolled out the new policy.

"We know that adolescents need to be educated and well-prepared. But the government should give them proper information on healthy sex with religious values instead of providing them with improper services like free condoms," Amran said.

Responding to the criticism, Mboi said that condoms would be distributed to those who faced the highest risks.

"The number of men going to commercial sex workers has reached about 6 million and 8 million. So we do have a high chance of an HIV epidemic," she said.

As of March 2012, the number of HIV infections through heterosexual intercourse accounted for 71 per cent, with only 18.7 per cent from injecting drug users.

Separately, the National AIDS Commission’s (KPA) acting secretary Kemal N. Siregar said adolescents should always have access to the prevention, medical treatment and rehabilitation deemed critical for protecting them against HIV.

"Without having any effective measures of stopping risky behaviour among young people, we’ll find that in delaying access to various services, they will run the risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS," he said.

Meanwhile, in Bandung, West Java, dozens of members of the conservative group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia staged a rally protesting against the new condom policy.

The protesters condemned the new policy as it could encourage adultery. "The government should have focused on cracking down on adultery," Hizbut Tahrir activist Asep Kurniawan said in his speech.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

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It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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