The Maltese government doesn’t care about sexual health, here’s why
Ignorant budgets, stale data and priority pigeons: it’s recent government developments (or lack thereof) that quickly prove it doesn’t care about sexual health.
And as a country that proudly maintains a total ban on abortion, you would assume that national leaders would at least invest time and money to improve the sexual health system which in no way reflects modern society.
But the government seems indifferent to the astronomical rates of teenage pregnancies, unintended pregnancies and STDs that Malta harbors.
You see, in addition to the questionable international titles our country holds, Malta is among the top ten developed countries with the highest rates of STDs. It is also the country with the highest teenage pregnancy rates in southern Europe.
But what else would you expect from a country with a sexual health education system that still promotes abstinence as one of its guiding principles?
Or a country that favors the use of free contraception to fight against the annoying stools of pigeons when this is not yet the case for women and men in Malta?
The government has always put sexual health issues on the back burner, and here’s how:
1. Sexual health policy
The sexual health policy that was due to be announced in March of this year is once again overhauled as the research it was based on is about 12 years old, Health Minister Chris Fearne said.
Therefore, researchers must start over with a new study to understand the sexual practices of people today.
The fact that this was not done when the new policy was announced implies that they haven’t actually reviewed it until now – seven months past the supposed due date.
This is not the first time that this sexual health policy date has been pushed back.
The policy was originally due to be announced in 2020, but once again, sexual health has been taken to the bottom of the list – this time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As it stands, Malta follows the 2010 Sexual Health Policy and nothing has been updated to reflect the significant legal and social changes that have taken place since that time.
A recently updated sexual health policy is integral to the well-being of the vast majority of people living in Malta and Gożo.
Such a policy would include improvements in education, accessibility of contraception and widespread promotion of sexual health, which the country sorely lacks.
The consequences of our current situation can be seen in national statistics which show that only 2% of the population visited Mater Dei Genitourinary Clinic (GU) in 2019 to get tested for STDs.
Since then, infection rates have steadily increased.
In fact, earlier this year the GU Clinic warned that there was a worrying increase in STIs in Malta among men who reported attending group sex parties.
Meanwhile, preventable STDs are also on the rise, with five people contracting HIV each month and nearly 800 people infected with HPV in 2019.
A sexual health policy will also tackle drug shortages like HIV in 2020. There has been a major stockout that has left people with the virus untreated.
2. The 2022 budget
Budget 2022 was recently released with several initiatives and programs aimed at improving the quality of life for Maltese and Gożitan citizens, and many of them are doing just that.
However, one crucial aspect has once again been overlooked and that is, you guessed it – sexual health.
Free drugs were in fact included in the government budget, but contraceptive drugs were not withheld.
Besides the obvious uses of contraception, hormonal methods are often treated as medicine to relieve the symptoms of a large number of medical conditions that afflict women and mothers.
Four main examples are PCOS – experienced by one in 10 women, endometriosis – experienced by 10% of women, PMS – experienced by three in four women and PMS – experienced by one in 20 women.
Bonus: Hormonal contraceptives are also used to treat menstrual irregularities that affect 9-25% of people with a uterus.
3. Contraceptives for pigeons
This movement to administer free contraceptives to pigeons – a notoriously hated bird – on real people is arguably the development that best illustrates the government’s lack of sex for sexual health.
I fully understand the nuisance this bird can be, but if you had to choose between getting pissed off by a pigeon or getting pregnant in a country that totally bans abortion, I think we would all collectively choose the former.
Unaffordable and inaccessible contraceptives that are touted as luxuries rather than medical necessities are one of the main contributors to unintended pregnancies.
So why are contraceptives still not subsidized?
4. Sexual health education
The Guidelines for Sexuality and Relationship Education in Maltese Schools include one of its core principles “Abstinence and Deferral of Sexual Activity and Sexual Intercourse for Young People”.
This is unrealistic, ineffective, and extremely damaging, as you can see from the aforementioned statistics.
Young people need proper education that will teach them adequate protection against STDs and pregnancy so as not to be afraid of pathetic and inaccurate videos preached by underqualified and biased teachers.
They also need to be taught more about consent, respect and communication, because sexual health is not just about preventing pregnancy and STDs.
It is about understanding your own body and your needs as well as those of your sexual partner (s).
Sexual health education also goes hand in hand with advocacy, students should be counseled on where to go when they encounter abnormalities, like this, more than 2% of the population will use the services they have access to.
However, this service is still not sufficient.
The GU clinic in Mater Dei is the only government funded way to test for sexual diseases.
And that’s why Deputy Premier Chris Fearne announced that very soon more sexual health services will be provided in clinics across the country.
A key phrase in this sentence is “soon”. No date was mentioned and no investment plan was mentioned.
Promises of reform without dates or concrete plans are totally meaningless. They are there to silence complaints but not to improve our disastrous health care system. This is how little the government cares about it.
If the government does not give us adequate sexual health policies that include free or subsidized contraception and real education, then they might as well legalize or at least decriminalize abortion because without the right policies, unintended pregnancies will continue to grow. crack down. Not to mention the devastating impact it can have on people’s sexual health.
And the only people who will be seriously affected by this will be those in vulnerable situations who cannot afford to travel for an abortion or get the drugs they desperately need, which often face shortages.
So please, instead of investing in a 20 million euro race track or other unnecessary property, invest in the future and protection of Malta’s sexual health.
What sexual health policies do you think should be implemented?