Indonesia’s new Health Minister has been summoned to appear before the House of Representatives on Monday to discuss the ministry’s controversial youth condom campaign.
Condoms are the most effective way to curb Indonesia’s rising HIV rates — the fastest growing epidemic in Asia — and teenage pregnancy rates, Health Minister Nafsiah Mboy said.
But Democratic Party of Opposition (PDI-I) lawmaker Rieke Dyah Pitaloka said there were more pressing health problems facing Indonesia, like adolescent malnutrition, the development of cheaper local drugs and the expansion of the nation’s public health centers (Puskesmas).
“The issue 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.
The youth condom campaign has raised ire in Indonesia’s conservative corners. Most critics, like Khofifah Indar Parawansa, head of the women’s division of the Nadhlatul Ulama, argue that religious education can address the issue of underage sexual activity. Others, like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have called Nafsiah a “liberal minister,” lobbing medically-inaccurate claims like that condoms are not an effective way to curb HIV transmission rates.
Nafsiah responded to the criticisms via a YouTube video posted online on June 19, explaining that the Health Ministry would not distribute free condoms to teenagers; the campaign would only urge them to use condoms if they were going to have sex.
“We know that some groups engage in risky sexual relations,” Nafsiah said in the video. “They should be counseled to change their lifestyle, but if they continue to do it, we can only advise them to use condoms. Ignorance of this will lead to unwanted pregnancies and [the spread of] HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.”
The majority of Indonesia’s HIV/AIDS infections result from unprotected sex, according to the AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA).
Teenage pregnancy rates are harder to pin down. According to a study conducted by the Child Protection Commission (KPAI), 21.2 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 18 have had at least one abortion. The same study claimed that 62.7 percent of teenagers have had sex by the age of 18.
The PDI-P lawmaker said that while these issues all need solutions, the Health Minister should also focus on other prioritized programs.
“HIV/AIDS should be solved with sex education,” Rieke said. “Instead of telling young teenagers to use condoms. It is better to educate them of the risks associated with having sex at a young age.”
The lawmaker urged Nafsiah to focus her efforts on the full implementation of the National Security System.
“It is not that the HIV/AIDS issue is not important, but she should be aware of the method used to convey it to the public,” Rieke said. “[This] issue shouldn’t push away other important health issues. The [Social Security Organizing Body] law was passed eight months ago, but the ministry has yet to publish its supporting regulation. The ministry should focus on revitalizing public health centers [Puskesmas] so people don’t have to go to the hospital for insignificant diseases like the flu.”
The Health Ministry also needs to develop programs to develop local medicines to reduce dependency on expensive Western products and to reduce the number of children and babies suffering from malnutrition.
“There are so many things she has to do that should be her first priority,” Rieke said. “We will call her on Monday to make her aware of her piling workload as well as to ask her to clarify her [condom] statement.”