Poor sex education caused more HIV transmissions

PETALING JAYA: The lack of holistic sex education is contributing to the sharp rise of sexually transmitted HIV infections even as overall infection rates in Malaysia are falling.

Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) Honorary Secretary Hisham Hussein said this is in stark contrast to the rapidly falling number of infections via injection drug use.

Hisham said injection drug usage accounted for 75% of new HIV infections annually before 2006 but now only comprises 18% of between 3,000 and 3,300 HIV diagnosis annually for the past three to four years.

"In 2006, the government along with MAC started needle exchange programmes and that worked very well. Today, Malaysia's handling of HIV transmission between drug users is a global example according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"It is proven that sexual transmission is the main driver today, we must go back to education and knowledge," Hisham told theSun in a phone interview, adding that sex education and AIDS is rarely mentioned together in public.

Hisham said this is especially alarming when the government recently revealed that tens of thousands of babies have been born to single mothers.

He was referring to Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim's statement in Parliament that government hospitals received 16,270 pregnant teenage girls who gave birth out of wedlock in the past three years.

Rohani also said a total of 532,158 children were born out of wedlock between 2005 and 2015, with 526 babies ended up being baby-dumping cases.

"The Women Ministry came up with shocking figures of babies born from single mothers. What does this point to? Unprotected sex. And this is only those who got pregnant, how many are having sex without getting pregnant?" Hisham said.

He suggests that comprehensive sex education be taught in universities, although ideally it should be taught in secondary school when children start maturing sexually.

He said the minimum should be to instill the practice of safe sex among youths, and for anyone who has had unprotected sex to get tested for any sexually transmitted infections, not just HIV.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said after visiting the Ampang Hospital that the trend of rising sexually transmitted HIV infections is reflected nationwide.

Subramaniam said the rise is despite Malaysia's infection rate falling to below the WHO's recommended level of 10 new diagnosis annually per 100,000.

He also noted that sexual transmission used to be more common among gay men but heterosexual transmission now forms the vast majority.

Subramaniam was commenting on Terengganu state health director Dr Mohamad Omar's statement that sexually transmitted HIV infections more than doubled from 15.6% in 2010 to 34.6% in 2015.

Mohamad also reportedly said only 7.9% of transmission due to sexual activity was among homosexual or bisexual individuals.