‘Teach sexual health in schools to prevent HIV’

National 3 minutes, 4 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

SCHOOLS must teach sexual and reproductive health to students as a way of preventing another increase of HIV cases in Brunei, the president of Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council said.

Iswandy Ahmad said there is a need for schools to use best practices and evidence-based approaches in reproductive health education.

He explained that this did not mean “copying” curriculum from other countries, but incorporating values such as staying in monogamous relationships and avoiding having sex outside of marriage.

Increase of HIV cases

The United Nations’ Global AIDS Progress Report showed the highest annual increase of 12 newly-reported HIV cases since Brunei first recorded its first local case of HIV in 1986.

A total of 93 cases in citizens and permanent residents were recorded up until the end of 2013.

According to the report, all of the 12 cases in 2013 were transmitted through sexual contact, with one case involving a female. In addition, seven cases were reported in men who have sex with men.

These past two years have also seen a shift in the number of infections from heterosexual transmissions to men who have sex with other men and transgenders. It added that such groups continue to be a difficult to target for surveillance as well as prevention.

With the implementation of the Syariah law in April 2014, the report added that it may make these groups appear less visible.

Sex education

Iswandy said it cannot be denied that HIV cases, especially among men having relationships with men and of the opposite gender, are on the rise.

He said there is a need to educate all men and women to reduce the number of cases.

“As taboo as it is, it should be informed on a non-judgemental yet informative and morally-bound in nature, i.e. no sexual relationship outside of marriage.

“An age-appropriate, culturally adapted with reference to best practices and evidence-based approaches toward reproductive health education needs to be initiated,” he added.

He said the curriculum can cover aurat (parts of the body that cannot be exposed based on Islamic law), and the concept of family and mutual monogamous relationships can be promoted rather than sex outside of marriage.

Spreading of rumours

Iswandy said it is worrying that in this age of social media, uninformed people can spread rumours and myths that may cause public panic, such as HIV spreading via canned foods and sanitary pads.

He said HIV spreads in four ways, unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner, sharing of infected syringes, mother to child vertical transmission and via infected blood products.

Members of public should get the correct information from reliable resources, through the Ministry of Health or the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, he said.

He added that the media also plays a role in disseminating these messages to the public. “The public should also only spread correct information. If in doubt, ask.

Furthermore, Iswandy said discrimination towards people living with HIV should not happen as they need access to medication and services.

Stigmatising people living with HIV may contribute to depression among HIV positive people, he added.

National response to AIDS

The UN report had stated that a policy on sex education has yet to be included in the Brunei curriculum, even though the Ministry of Education was considering the introduction of “life skills-based” education.

It added that the government provides free and comprehensive healthcare to all citizens. This includes all aspects of prevention, care, treatment and support for HIV.

However, there is no separate and specific budget allocated to deal with HIV/AIDS.

The report said first-line anti-retrovirals are readily provided to citizens and permanent residents. However, the provision of second and third-line anti-retrovirals is subject to internal regulations.

The Brunei Times