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MALTATODAY 26 December 2021 LOOKING BACK edition

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24 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 26 DECEMBER 2021 NEWS Christmas specials • Sexual health AFTER years of empty promises, an updated sexual health policy is nowhere to be seen; and still does not appear to be on the horizon after it was sent back to the drawing board because it was based on 12-year-old studies. Health Minister Chris Fearne said the policy would not be ready before next year. The cur- rent sexual health policy was drawn up 11 years ago, and the government has long promised an updated version to reflect modern-day realities. In October 2020, Fearne said the health authorities were aim- ing to conclude updates to Mal- ta's sexual health policy during the first half of 2021. This did not materialise. Then earlier in the first half of 2021, Fearne made the star- tling revelations that the island's sexual health policy had to be pushed back further because it was based on studies from 12 years ago. "I was given a draft of the policy, but it was based on studies from 12 years ago. Pub- lic health has now been tasked to carry out a new study to un- derstand the sexual practices of people today," Fearne had told journalists. The health minister divulged that the results of the study would be available at the start of 2022, and a new sexual health policy would be drafted after- wards. NGOs such as the Women's Rights Foundation have been calling for an updated sexual health policy as far back as 2018. The group had recommended revisions be made to reflect legal and societal changes occurring since 2011, with clear responsi- bilities, timelines and measures of monitoring and evaluation to ensure accountability and quali- ty standards in services and the development of better sexuality education programmes. In 2021 Dr Natalie Psaila Prac- tice, a member of Doctors for Choice, said it was time for Mal- ta to have a robust sexual health framework and protect its popu- lation from sexually transmitted infections and unexpected. Psaila raised the point that despite the morning-after-pill (MAP) having been available in Malta since 2016, the debate sur- rounding the medicine contin- ues to this day, with anti-choice continuing to insist that MAP is abortive. "All three types of MAP available in Malta have had to go through a rigorous process. They're the Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC) specifi- cally states that the MAP is not abortive," Psaila said. Yet, the MAP is not available for purchase from all pharma- cies because of conscientiously objecting pharmacists. To make matters even worse, the MAP is not on the government formu- lary, which means that women cannot buy it from the hospital pharmacy after hours. In fact, an investigation by Mal- taToday found that MAP was still difficult to source on the is- land, especially on Sundays and public holidays. A journalist from this paper who posed as a prospective client found that all pharmacies on the Sunday roster from 7 November until 8 December, a public holi- day, in area 3 (Qormi and Santa Venera) said that they did not sell emergency contraception. And travelling to the neigh- bouring localities of Hamrun and Marsa, which comprise Area 2, is unlikely to solve the problem. On five of the six Sun- days and public holidays under review, the pharmacies on the roster in Area 2 do not sell the morning-after pill. The investigation also found that in Gozo, none of the only two pharmacies open sold the morning-after pill on one of the days, which means anybody on the sister island requiring the contraception will have to travel to Malta. Historic bill presented in parliament In May 2021, independent MP Marlene Farrugia presented a historic bill to decriminalise abortion in Malta that was filed in parliament. "It makes absolutely no sense," Farrugia said, "that a woman looking for self-de- ter- mination, looking for medical in- tervention, ends up being crim- inalised and condemned instead of being of- fered help." Farrugia said that the COV- ID-19 pandemic allowed her to reflect on the health struggles faced by women, saying that Malta needs better awareness of women's needs in today's socie- ty, including medical and sexual education needs, to increase the quality of life among women in Malta. "I feel that this should be the platform from which we go for- ward so that all women push an agenda for health structures that support women from birth […] till old age so that we can create a better life not just for women or children, […] but for all society." Malta is one of a few countries in the world and the only EU state to completely ban the ter- mination of pregnancy. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a surge in requestions for abortion from Malta according to Abortion Support Network (ASN); the 2020 figures had sup- pressed the previous figures. The statistics suggest an increased demand in ter- minations during the COVID-19 pandemic af- ter flights to countries where hospitals offer abortions were shut down. Malta's mysterious sexual health bill LAURA CALLEJA From anti to pro-choice: Marlene Farrugia

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