24 September 2003

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Malta working on first national Sexual Health Policy

Malta is actively working on its first national Sexual Health Policy, Foreign Minister Joe Borg announced during a UN high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS held in New York at the start of the week. Malta has aligned itself with the declaration of commitment expressed by the 26th special session of the UN General Assembly.
Key elements of the policy include proposals for a review of sex education in schools and surveillance of major sexually transmitted infections including HIV. It will also emphasise the need for specific legislation to address problems such as discrimination in employment opportunities and other basic human rights.
"Although the problem is relatively contained on our island, it is still a reality and larger than life for those who live with the virus day in day out," Minister Borg said.
"Discussing the problem at a national level is not enough. Our responsibilities as representatives of our citizens compels us to take the debate further. We have a collective moral obligation towards the citizens we represent to address this challenge in a concrete manner and in a concerted global response," Borg said.
The fight, he said, had to be fought on two fronts – containment and prevention: "Admittedly, this is not easy, but the experiences of other countries that have been successful should serve as an example for all to follow."
Minister Borg said Malta had closely witnessed the changes and advances that have occurred in the field over the past years: from the unfortunate earlier times, when all that could be offered to our patients was the treatment of opportunistic infections and palliative care, to the more recent availability of anti-retroviral medication. "This has completely changed the outlook and quality of life of our patients and all concerned"
"Malta believes that an accessible and well-organised health care system is the key to an effective containment strategy. Our state’s hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit offers a centralised service on the island. Free anti-retroviral treatment can only be prescribed from this Unit, which also works very closely with a centralised laboratory where anonymous HIV testing is carried out. This allows for more accurate collection of data and epidemiological study, which is central to a targeted response and appropriate allocation of limited resources.
"Malta’s response to the epidemic has been a comprehensive one, integrating prevention, voluntary confidential counselling and testing, care, support and treatment. This multi-disciplinary service is provided by various departments of the national health service working in close liaison with social workers and related NGOs."
Minister Borg said people living with AIDS in Malta benefit from easy access to free health care including medication, information, counselling and support, resulting in an improved quality of life. He said HIV testing was actively encouraged in all patients attending the recently set-up walk-in clinic for the diagnosis and management of sexually transmitted infections. "The very good uptake of 70 per cent is much higher than the minimum recommended targets," Minister Borg said.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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