TO WHAT extent are Bruneians protected against HIV/Aids infection?
One part of this question was answered when the Deputy Minister of Health recently revealed the increasing number of people who are suffering from this global epidemic in Brunei. This presentation of the cold, hard facts opens the door for more awareness programmes on Aids and for the public to realise their role in educating loved ones, so they can avoid actions which may put their lives at risk.
Since the Ministry of Health started monitoring the number of cases in 1988, a total of 19 locals have died of Aids, while another 37 have been infected. Saying Brunei has a record number of seven people infected with HIV/Aids in a single year can also lead to identifying effective ways and better prevention in tackling the issue.
The deputy minister also called on all Bruneians to take the lead in battling against the disease, but how well do we know about HIV/Aids, which infects one victim every eight seconds globally?
Do we want our future generations to acquire information about Aids through the mass media or from friends who may have misconceptions about the disease and the infected? Or should sex education start from parents and teachers? What constitutes an effective sex education?
A Google search on sex education returned 13,800,000 hits. Imagine what children may read and understand about sex from merely browsing the World Wide Web. Even one mis-informed website on sex education can negatively affect how they perceive sex.
An effective sex education should equip students with the skills to identify information, negotiate the information and decide whether the information can be applied in their situations.
One objection to introducing sex education in schools is based on the belief that it encourages children to engage in sexual activities. However, in a study of 35 sex education programmes around the world, the World Health Organization found no evidence to suggest programmes on sex education actually lead to sexual activity. A top UN official previously said: "It's a matter of political will and translating it into more openness about Aids and having the courage to adopt education and prevention programmes to reach those who are marginalised."
Brunei is applicable in this situation because discussions on sex in public is still a taboo, and Aids victims often have to deal with a social stigma associated with the disease. Not openly discussing and debating the issue may bring more harm than good, given that many Aids victims are suffering in silence, without a voice and without the rights and opportunities that other citizens enjoy.
Some may feel sorry for HIV/Aids-infected children who bear the consequences of irresponsible adults, but sympathy alone will not help them to continue making the best use of their short lives.
Brunei's surging rate of sexually-transmitted diseases, including gonnorhea and chlamydia, also requires relevant authorities and the public to act with urgency to counter the problem, with public forums as one of the channels for people to express their concerns. As the deputy health minister has said, "HIV/Aids prevention is everybody's business."
But the question remains: how can all Bruneians play a role in combating the epidemic when its implications are not being discussed in public? While Brunei's government is taking Aids seriously, openness and brave action is still needed to deal with marginalised groups that they usually shy away from.
The Brunei Times
Monday, December 10, 2007
Feel free to comment on this article using your Facebook account. By submitting your comment, you agree to the Terms and Conditions for the use of this comments feature, as stated here.