REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, JAKATA -- The health minister's policy on the use of condoms, yet again, triggered controversy and opposition, particularly from Muslim leaders in this country, which has a Muslim-majority population.
Last year, just a few weeks after being appointed as health minister, Nafsiah Mboi was strongly criticized for her plan to distribute free condoms to fight Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
This time, she has come under attack again for the implementation of "National Condom Week." She finally caved to public pressure to stop the campaign on condom use as some groups have considered it "a means to legalize casual sex."
National Condom Week 2013, scheduled for December 1-7, is a joint program by the AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA) and private condom distributor DKT Indonesia, while the health ministry has only provided its approval without handling the implementation, according to Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the ministry's Director General of Disease and Environment Health Control, on Wednesday (Dec.4).
"We met with the campaign organizers on Monday, and we have all agreed that the campaign should be stopped," clarified Tjandra.
He said DKT Indonesia and the KPA have, in fact, routinely organized the annual campaign since 2007 to mark World AIDS Day.
This year's campaign became controversial following an advertisement on a city bus showing actress and singer Julia Perez in a sexy pose, along with the National Condom Week 2013 logo
"According to the DKT, there has never been any distribution of free condoms, nor bus visits to universities outside Jakarta as there was only one such bus in operation," confirmed Tjandra.
He reiterated that no free condoms had been distributed from the bus as it only carried HIV/AIDS communication, education and information materials, such as leaflets, for distribution to the public.
KPA Secretary Kemal Siregar said this was the only controversial HIV/AIDs education program that had been stopped, while other programs were still continuing.
He admitted that free condoms had indeed been distributed, but the distribution was limited to a key demographic group; the condoms were not disbursed to the general public.
"Condom distribution has been done in certain locations that are considered high risk," he clarified.
Last year, Nafsiah Mboi, who took office as the new health minister on June 14, 2012, was summoned by Parliament a couple of weeks later over the ministry's plan to distribute free condoms.
Nafsiah, who was previously the secretary of KPA, explained to legislators that the free condoms would be distributed only to those who faced the highest risk of contracting AIDS, such as prostitutes, 34 percent of whom are aged between 15-24 years.
The increasing use of condoms among sections of society that are most prone to HIV/AIDS was one of the Millennium Development Goals that the government aimed to achieve by 2015, she noted.
According to data available, Indonesia has more than 200 thousand HIV/AIDS patients.
The minister believes that unless a breakthrough is made to stem the increasing number of HIV/AIDS patients, Indonesia will have around 1.8 million new HIV/AIDS patients within the next decade.
Earlier, Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi was reported as saying that promoting the use of condoms was not wrong.
"Distributing cigarettes is more dangerous than launching a campaign to distribute condoms," the minister pointed out.
Her policy, however, has been resisted by a number of Islamic groups.
In Aceh, tens of members of the National Front of Indonesian Muslim Students (KAMMI) recently staged a rally urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to remove Minister Mboi from her post.
"We reject National Condom Week because the policy is useless and can only harm the values of the younger generation," stated Faisal Qasim, KAMMI Aceh's chairman, here on Wednesday (Dec.4).
He pointed out that the minister has repeatedly announced controversial policies, and therefore, her appointment should be reconsidered.
He pointed out that the ministry needed to ban prostitution and sex outside of marriage, instead of distributing condoms.
"We also urge the health ministry not to implement controversial policies that seem to originate from foreign values," he added.
The Indonesian Ulema Council's (MUI) chairman, K.H. Amidhan, has also disagreed with the implementation of National Condom Week.
"The MUI does not agree with the implementation of National Condom Week because it only suits the interests of the condom manufacturers and does not promote the use of contraceptives," explained Amidhan.
He argued that promoting condoms could be misinterpreted by teenagers as permission to engage in casual sex.
Amidhan also noted that sex education for the public, including teenagers, is more important than promoting condom use.
The chief patron of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, K.H. Hasyim Muzadi, also opposed the condom use campaign.
"I urge the ministry to stop observing National Condom Week because it justifies casual sexual behavior," stated Hasyim on Tuesday (Dec.3).
The well-known NU leader said that if the government wants to tackle the AIDS/HIV issue, it should attempt other strategies.
"I disagree with the free distribution of condoms. Such measures must be stopped immediately," added Haysim. (Fardah)