Too shy to talk about sex?
Did you know that in many countries people can be sued for being HIV positive? It sounds strange, doesn’t it? But the reality is like this, and Malta is one interesting example. Even though the country has escalated in many spheres, especially in the economic one, still Malta is years behind in today’s sexual tendencies.
Mark Joseph Rapa is a law graduate from the University of Malta whose doctoral thesis focused on criminal law on HIV transmission. As an individual who has taken issue with recent guidelines published by the education ministry, he says that the HIV stigmas still persist. The point is that people still believe that they can get infected by sharing the same bed with someone who lives with HIV, or by drinking from the same glass they do, or by just hugging or kissing them.
But the Directorate for Quality and Standards of Education assume that HIV should be discussed from a sexually transmitted infection perspective, in terms of prevention. Sadly, this perspective is no longer suitable for today’s realities. By keeping the problem low-key, people don’t get the needed sexual knowledge. Rapa is certain that people have been choosing not to use condoms for a long time, which is a hell of a reason to increase the testing and treating service. Sexual health and relationships should be included in the national curricula. This would equip the students with the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision on the behaviors they engage in.
Especially, when there are different medication alternatives. One of which is the once-daily PrEP pill. Rapa is the founder of PrEPing Malta, pre-exposure prophylaxis which Rapa says prevents the acquisition of HIV with over 99% effectiveness. Anyway, Malta’s Directorate is dealing with their actions, which is, to say, at least strange. Considering that studies by the World Health Organisation suggested that reported cases of HIV increased by 50% in Malta last year. In 2017, the GU clinic carried out a total of 5,864 consultations, of which only 107 were people aged under 18. The most common conditions identified were genital warts, chlamydia, and herpes. 45 cases of HIV were identified. The clinic has recently introduced free rapid testing and self-tests for the public from pharmacies.
The young HIV activist sees the solution in a better organized sexual education. “Because nobody can conduct people’s life in the way they deem best for themselves. It’s not up to us to dictate what they should or should not do in the privacy of their own homes”, he says. And it’s the government’s task to decide which information would be of relevance to its audience and how best to deliver it.
Still, Maltese law ascribes criminal responsibility to people transmitting the virus even when they are not aware of being infected. Currently, there is a strong international movement to remove HIV criminalization laws, which Rapa says contribute to unjust prosecutions and convictions.