JANUARY 24 — The concept of harm reduction is to reduce harm towards the masses — in other words, it’s limiting damage towards the individual rather than the society in general. To do this, we have to look at what damages individuals inflict when it comes to general health.
There are three examples that I can think of when we talk about harm reduction: Sexual health, drug addiction and smoking.
For sexual health, the spread of venereal diseases can be stopped by making condoms freely available to the general public. Coupling this with sex education will also lower the cases of baby dumping and abortions.
At the same time, we cannot avoid talking about sex education without bringing up the increasing cases of HIV/AIDS in Malaysia from sexual intercourse. To such an end, prevention being better than cure, it would help to make the availability of PREP in the general market and healthcare providers.
We cannot stop people from being sexually active, but we can curb the spread of such diseases through careful consideration and the implementation of making such supplies available to anyone and everyone sans fear and prejudice.
When it comes to drug addiction, there are multiple concepts that can be looked at in allowing people to cope and come off their addiction. The first, of course is rehabilitation — while there are mandatory rehabilitation programmes when arrested, perhaps we should continue with the clean needle supply in order to ensure their safety before seeking rehab.
Second step is of course make the rehab programme open for voluntary participation in rehab programmes — narcotics anonymous programmes and such concepts should be looked at from a social activity programme for counsellors from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.
And finally the biggest addiction of all according to some people in the health sector — smoking. In terms of harm reduction as seen in the UK, vaping is the replacement therapy.
Highly regulated, vaping is part and parcel of the UK’s plan to stop smoking, to the point of being the centrally promoted alternative during their “Stoptober” campaign every October, dedicated to get people to stop smoking.
The reasoning behind it is simple — vaping is less damaging to the person as well as to those surrounding him, when compared to secondhand smoke and cigarettes.
However, there is a need for proper regulations when we talk about vaping, especially in light of the e-cigarette and vaping associated lung injury (EVALI) scare — which somehow didn’t impact the UK but managed to reach Labuan.
Speaking of which, why has the Ministry of Health not mentioned that case again? Was it or was it not EVALI related?
We now have to ask a serious question — will we put people’s lives at risk over a moral imperative to be more pious and holy? Because from an individual standpoint, the reason for not implementing these proven harm reduction techniques have no other barrier.
If you bring up these topics, we will hear the following justifications — we don’t want condoms widely available because sex before wedlock is morally wrong. We shouldn’t help drug addicts because that might encourage them. We shouldn’t let people vape because they don’t know what they’re doing to themselves.
Okay, first of all — they’re still having sex and if they get infected they’ll be spreading it to everyone. If they get pregnant, they’ll be dumping babies at a mosque, in a drain, front of a church, or some bizarre location that shows up in the press.
Meanwhile, drug addicts need treatment — and letting them have clean supplies while you continue to try and convince them to seek treatment, is imperative compared to judgment from society.
And finally vaping, people know what they’re doing to themselves. Smokers know what they’re doing to themselves. And if they’re minors, they should not be either vaping or smoking at all. But at the same time, vaping will not kill the people around them with secondhand smoke.
Moral aspects aside, it is imperative that we adhere to harm reduction from a scientific standpoint, which shows that all the above works. What is needed is just that — to put the moral aspects aside and implement these to the betterment of society regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and income group.
So perhaps it is time for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to embrace these harm reduction policies for all Malaysians.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.