Sunday, November 11, 2012

Vietnam - Health officials call for more sex education

VietNamNet Bridge – Nguyen Thi Lan, a worker in Ha Noi's Bac Thang Long Industrial Zone, has had three abortions.

The only birth-control measure that she uses is the rhythm method, where previous menstrual cycles are calculated to estimate the chances of fertility. Scientists have shown that the method is not reliable.

She explained that she is afraid of other contraceptive measures as she has heard they have negative side-effects.

"Many old people told me that inserting a coil would be dangerous and cause backache, stomach ache and affect my menstrual cycle, while using morning-after pills would worsen my skin."

Lan (not her real name) is not alone in her beliefs. A survey released by the city's Health Department on Monday shows that only 43 per cent of 1,120 surveyed female workers said they are using birth-control measures. Of these women, more than 15 per cent admitted that the measures they do use are withdrawl before ejaculation or the rhythm method, which have both been proven to be unsafe.

Meanwhile, nearly 60 per cent of the surveyed people said they have never heard about morning-after pills.

Nguyen Thi Van Anh, a health department official, said that thousands of female workers are at a high risk of suffering from reproductive health and sexual problems.

The surveyed people, who are mainly are under the age of 30 years and have graduated from high-school, still wrongly assume that contraceptive measures would bring negative impacts to their health, she said.

Vu Thi Thanh Huong, director of the city's Reproductive Health Care Centre said that females working in industrial zones are more likely to be subject to sexual diseases or unexpected pregnancy than those working in other sectors.

More than 13 per cent of the surveyed people have had abortions.

Their situation becomes more dangerous when they have abortions at illegal health clinics or treat themselves using some kinds of drugs, she said.

The survey also showed that many female workers are victims of sexual abuse by their husband or partner, and nearly 45 per cent claimed to have never heard about the law on domestic violence prevention and control.

Tran Thanh Thuy (not her real name), a 28-year-old worker in Soc Son Industrial Zone said that she still feels terrified when recalling the first time having sex with her husband, which made her feel like she was being cut by a knife.

She later divorced from her husband, who was violent, and has since stayed away from men because of her fears.

More checks needed

Experts have said that female workers need to seek specific consultancy from health services when facing reproductive health and sexual related problems.

However, the only health workers who are available in emergency cases in the industrial zones have no expertise in the area of sexual health and are unable to give necessary support to female workers, she said.

It is often difficult for women living in industrial zones to receive this support because their employers do not organise consultancies or reproductive health checks to take place in their factories.

"They are afraid that these activities will disrupt product management and working time, reducing their turnover," said Huong.

Vu Thi Hoa, a worker in Dong Anh Industrial Zone said it was impossible for foreign employers to allow workers to use their working time to get information about reproductive health. Their main priority is making a profit.

Lan agreed, and said she and other workers get one general health check a year, and nothing more.

Nguyen Ngoc Quyet, director of Duc Giang Consultancy Centre, said these employers should offer sufficient health checks as if their employees have any worries about their reproductive health their lack of certainty about the problem can obsess their mind, distracting them from their work and negatively affecting their labour productivity.

According to female workers and experts, many women believe that reproductive health and sexual problems are private and sensitive, and this is another cause preventing them from getting the right knowledge about the issues that affect them.

Lan said that they often just confide their problems with close friends, or secretly check at illegal clinics. "It is too shameful to speak about these things publicly."

Anh said that the health department is going to hold conferences for employers and health workers in industrial zones in a bid to change their attitudes towards reproductive health and sexual problems so that they can facilitate visits from relevant officials who give free consultancy advice to their workers.

It is planned that nearly 2,000 female workers will be given the chance to discuss these issues with an experienced and qualified health professional in the next three months.

Workers have suggested that these services should be made compulsory in employment regulations in order for the scheme to take effect. They added that they believe the consultancy meetings should be held in residential areas, not at places of work.


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