Claudine Cassar | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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This is a health warning: sex could lead to concussion!

The Health Department has launched a campaign promoting safe sex, with the slogan “If you’re sexually active protect yourself.” The message is an excellent one and it is to be hoped that the campaign is successful.
The strange thing about the advert, which is currently being displayed in several bus shelters around the island, is the image that is being used. Funnily enough the slogan is paired with a photo of a young lady holding a bicycle helmet.
I had a lot of fun thinking about the ways a helmet could come in handy during a steamy session in the bedroom. Perhaps the health authorities are worried that girls could get concussed if their partner gets a little too vigorous and hits their head against the headboard? I can just imagine the follow up ad – a girl wearing knee and elbow protectors to safeguard her from carpet burn!
Jokes aside, it is clear the helmet is a metaphor and those who see it should immediately associate it with a condom. I suppose that officials at the Health Department were concerned that people would react negatively if the advert was perceived to promote condom use, so they set about getting the message across using cunning mental associations.
But come on guys, aren’t we being a little childish here? Is it possible that we are afraid of using a picture of a condom – or at the very least the word itself? What’s the point of an advert targeting young people and advocating safe sex if the advert does not give the slightest indication of what the target audience should do in order to be safe? What’s the point if the advert does not even hint at the risks associated with irresponsible sexual behaviour?
Malta is not the only country in the world that is trying to encourage young people to be safe in their sexual encounters. Other countries, however, have been much more courageous in the way they have tackled the matter. In France, for example, the health authorities launched a hard hitting campaign with several shocking adverts – one shows a woman having sex with a tarantula and the other shows a man having sex with a scorpion. The message is clear and unequivocal – protect yourself because if you are sleeping around, you have no idea what your partner could be passing on to you.
Public health officials have often used this approach in the past. What springs to mind immediately are the campaigns against smoking and the labels that are being used worldwide in order to dissuade people from smoking. They show graphic images of ruined teeth and mouth disease, ravaged lungs, ugly cancers and miscarried foetuses – not pretty but definitely effective. There is absolutely no way that someone can see the image without getting the message!
Instead of a pretty lady with a helmet, the advert should have a photo of a genital wart with the message – this is what you could get if you are not careful! Gruesome, true – but STDs are not pretty, are they?
Hopefully the Health Department will reconsider its position and come up with something a bit more effective. Otherwise it risks burning its funds on a campaign that will not achieve much – other than becoming the inspiration for a few lewd jokes.

An apple for the teacher
This week the Malta Union of Teachers announced that it was stepping up industrial action to put pressure on the Ministry of Education. The main bone of contention appears to be the fact that teachers are receiving fewer allowances than other professionals employed by the government.
I have a lot of respect for teachers. As a mother of two young daughters who are now in school it is clear to me how important these professionals are. A good teacher makes an enormous difference to a child, so we should never underestimate the contribution these people make to society.
Many people say that the teaching profession is an easy one. Lots of holidays and short working days – that may be true, but in my opinion dealing with 20 to 30 noisy and energetic youngsters is no picnic! So if it really does take 20 years of service for a teacher working in a government school to work his or her way to a salary of €22,027, they are right to complain.
That said, I totally disagree with the way the union is portraying the situation. They are justified to ask for better salaries for their members. However they should stop making the argument that teachers should be paid more because doctors got a pay rise! With all due respect this argument makes the union sound like a jealous child having a tantrum in the playground.
There can be no comparison between doctors and teachers because of a simple application of the law of supply and demand. Doctors are leaving the country in droves, so if the government had not raised their allowances we would have ended up without enough doctors to man Mater Dei. Teachers, on the other hand, are by no means in short supply – so there is no way that they can use the same negotiating tactic.
The MUT should fight to get the recognition its members deserve. This does not only involve getting them a pay rise, but also improving the public’s perception regarding the importance of teachers.
Whingeing about the good fortunes enjoyed by another profession is by no means helping their cause, and the time has come for them to recognise the fact.

And pigs do fly…
The Maltese are a truly contrary people! First everyone was complaining that the government had not purchased sufficient doses of the AH1N1 vaccination, and now almost nobody wants the jab! The very same people who a few short months ago were moaning how the end of the world was nigh because we are all going to die of swine flu are now sharing links from dubious sites and spouting ridiculous theories as though they were scientific fact!
My family and I have all gone to the health centre and taken the shot. When it comes to medical information, I follow the advice of organisations such as the WHO and not that provided by pundits on YouTube!
May I remind all the parents reading this column about the resurgence of measles in the UK? In 1998 Dr Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet linking the MMR jab with autism. This resulted in a media frenzy and many parents in the UK refused to give the vaccination to their children. The result – by 2006 only 80% of children in the UK were vaccinated and children started dying of measles.
Dr Wakefield has been discredited. His paper was based on falsified data and the scientific community is well aware that the whole story was a fraud. However the damage is done and several parents still refuse to give their children the MMR jab.
Looks like we never learn, do we?


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