Friday, June 29, 2012


Jakarta, June 29, 2012 (ANTARA) - A plan to distribute free condoms to fight HIV/AIDS by the health ministry has been criticized by a number of parties, including Muslim scholars and some legislators.

Recently, hundreds of members of Muslim mass organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) staged a rally protesting the new condom policy, which is alleged to encourage adultery.

Asep Kurniawan, the rally coordinator, said that the free condom distribution is perceived as promoting pre-marital sex or free sex, particularly among youths.

According to reports in Rakyat Merdeka on Friday (June 29), 13 Islamic mass organizations gathered at the Friendship Institution of Islamic Mass Organizations (LPOI) and urged the health ministry to cancel the plan to distribute free condoms to public.

LPOI Chairman Said Aqil Siradj, who is concurrently the chairman of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said the free condom campaign could promote free sex practices. Condoms are not the right solution to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and it may even create a new problem, he stated.

A harsh criticism also came from Chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) Amidhan, who opposes the new condom policy, saying that Indonesia is not a secular country. He said he would write a letter to President Susilo Bambang if the health ministry goes ahead with the condom policy.

Nafsiah Mboi, who was installed as the new health minister on June 14, 2012, was summoned over the plan last Monday (June 25) by the House of Representatives' Commission IX on demographic affairs, health, manpower and transmigration.

The new minister told the lawmakers that she was misquoted and misunderstood by the media, since she had not made any statement regarding free condoms to school students and teenagers.

Mboi, who was previously the secretary of the AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA), explained that the free condoms would be distributed to those who faced the highest risks of contracting Aids, such as prostitutes, because 34 percent of prostitutes are aged between 15-24 years old.

They will be the target of the free condom campaigns scheduled at places having the highest risks of HIV/AIDS, she said, adding that the number of men going to commercial sex workers has reached about 8 million in this country.

She believes that unless a breakthrough is witnessed to stem the sprawling numbers of HIV/AIDs sufferers, Indonesia would have around 1.8 million new HIV/AIDS patients within the next decade.

Besides, she said that increasing the use of condoms among portions of the population most prone to HIV/AIDS, is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the government aimed to achieve by 2015. According to data, Indonesia has more than 200,000 Human Immuno Defficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) patients.

Indonesia has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic rates in Asia, according to United Nations figures. More than three-quarters of the nation's HIV/AIDS cases result from unprotected sex, according to figures provided by the AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA).

However, Iskan Qalba Lubis, a legislator of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said that though condoms are an effective contraceptive, they are also easily abused. The minister's policy on free condom distribution can also be misunderstood to promote free sex, he said.

Another politician from PKS, Herlini Amran, said that more education on healthy sex and religious values is more crucial than the ministry`s plan to provide the public with free condoms.

Tuti Alawiyah, former Women`s Roles minister and currently the head of the Islamic Propagation Coordination Forum (BMKT), expressed her disappointment about the minister`s condom policy. She said there are more effective ways to curb HIV/AIDS transmission than condom use.

"I`m very disappointed," she told Antara.

"I believe such a plan wouldn`t find support in any religion because it supports pre-marital sex," she said.

She urged the government to intensify preventive action by improving the nation`s moral standards instead of blindly following Western mores. The government should have intensified its public awareness campaign in the fight against HIV/AIDS, rather than distributing free condoms, she added.

Khofifah Indar Parawansa, another prominent Muslim scholar, also criticized Minister Mboi. She said the nation is currently facing degradation of moral values, and free condom distribution does not offer a solution.

"For sure, distributing condoms for free will not solve the moral problem in Indonesia," Khofifah, also former minister for women`s empowerment, said.

She added that Minister Mboi`s policy contradicts programs favored by the other ministers, particularly those of the religious affairs minister.

Khofifah quoted the 2011 data, which revealed startling numbers. Of the approximate five million women aborting their pregnancies in Indonesia, most of them, or a remarkable 62 percent, were under 16 years of age.

"Such a problem must not be responded to by giving free condoms to the youth. There must be serious efforts to strengthen their faith and religious education," asserted Khofifah, who is also the head of the women`s division of the Nadhlatul Ulama, before adding that while abortion rates among teenage girls are high, the issue should be addressed with religion, not contraceptives. "There should be a serious effort (to teach) our children faith and obedience," she stated.

Despite, concerns from religious communities and other members of the House of Representatives, the Indonesian government has decided that it would go ahead with its plan to distribute free condoms to at-risk communities in the country in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The National Family Planning Board (BKKBN) Chief Sugiri Syarief said recently that it would soon ship 57.6 million condoms to cities across the country. Syarief said condom distribution was part of an initiative led by the health ministry that aims to prevent an HIV/AIDS endemic, as well as other sexually-transmitted diseases.

But Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-I) lawmaker Rieke Dyah Pitaloka recently said that there are more pressing health problems facing Indonesia than HIV/AIDS, such as adolescent malnutrition, the underdevelopment of cheaper local drugs and the expansion of the nation's public health centers (Puskesmas).

"The issue (HIV/AIDS) is important, but as a new minister, she has more important health problems piling up on her desk that need to be solved," Rieke said. ***3***
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