13 July 2013

Many issues cut across boundaries and require several different ministries to cooperate in order to find solutions instead of only working in isolation.

WHEN it comes to some issues, I sometimes wonder if they’re too important to leave to mere politicians to handle.
There we were with smoggy skies and unbreathable air again. I repeat, again. After the previous bad experiences and many promises by our leaders that they would do something about it, not only did the haze return, it was actually worse.
Did we learn anything from the last time? It started down south in our neighbouring country. They were choked out completely.
You would think that we would start wondering whether we would be hit next. Instead we twiddled our thumbs and watched as the haze made its way north, disrupting everything along the way.
Could we not have foreseen this? And therefore could we not have done something quicker to at least mitigate it? Or issue warnings to those most vulnerable or susceptible to be alert to the risks to their health? Before the 100% rise in asthma cases actually occurred?
I don’t know what it is about our country that we are so resistant to actually doing anything about prevention. No, I misstate that: we love preventive actions, especially if they involve detention or the prevention of so-called immoralities. Mostly, by methods for which there is no evidence of their effectiveness. But to do the actual hard work of studying and analysing an issue in order to find a fact-based implementable solution seems to be beyond us.
On Monday, I sat in a plenary session at the 7th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pa­tho­genesis, Treatment and Prevention and listened to a doctor from Cambodia talking about their ap­­proach to managing the global epidemic.
He described the progression of their HIV programme as Cambodia 1.0, 2.0 and now 3.0 supported with a lot of analysis of their data. I truly don’t know how accurate his analyses were but I was impressed at the issues that they were striving to address, including sensitive ones like sex work.
Although I have not been involved in HIV for seven years now, what seems obvious to me is that at most, we are at Malaysia 1.5 when it comes to HIV. That is because we are one of the few countries in the region to have implemented harm reduction programmes and to provide free anti-retroviral treatment to Malay­sians living with HIV. But that was a while ago and although that’s something we should be proud of, we really have not moved on.
Trying to get updated statistics on HIV is difficult enough. But even more difficult is trying to get analyses of the statistics, or of other factors that contribute to the HIV epidemic, whether on the prevention or treatment side.
I listened to a South African professor talk about the issues of transitioning care for children with HIV who grow into adults, and wondered if anyone here was also thinking of the same thing.
The same is true of every government department, not just health.
It would be interesting to know if the new Youth and Sports Minister will commission studies to truly find out why some of our young men become Mat Rempit, or get into drugs, or are so absent from our tertiary institutions. Or are those issues to be left to the police, or to Education?
If there is anything new our current Government can do to truly make a difference, it would be to recognise that many of these issues are cross-cutting and need the engagement and cooperation of several ministries working together and not in isolation.
Similarly, our Women, Family and Community Development Ministry would do well to get someone to do a truly in-depth study of why child marriage or incest happens and what can be done to prevent these. Or why children keep drowning during the school holidays. Do we even really have facts on why so many babies get abandoned?
However, we seem to have no appetite for knowing the real reasons why these issues arise in our society. Instead we would rather rely on speculation based often on someone else’s shallow knowledge or worse, prejudice. This was how we got ridiculous “guidelines” on how to spot gay people, all of which seem to be based on watching a cheap telenovela.
If we are going to seriously right whatever is wrong in our society, we need to face them squarely.
Today I heard a presentation on the dismal state of the Malayan tiger and it’s obvious that the problem is human greed, in all of its forms. But unless we own up to that, then we can bid our tigers goodbye. How sad would that be?
We need to be able to hold up a mirror to ourselves and simply accept what we see. Then find realistic ways to make us be better so that we look better.