Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Exclusive: DOH Sec. Esperanza Cabral on Sex Education and other health concerns

Department of Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral gives her opinion regarding the growing issue of implementing Sex Education in elementary and school. In a short interview with the most controversial cabinet secretary of the Arroyo administration, Dr Cabral fearlessly answers some issues concerning public health and what people love to debate now – Sex Education.

According to Dr. Cabral DOH is in a support role in terms of the implementation of Sex Education where Department of Education (DepEd) is the lead implementing of the said program is schools. Therefore, the details of the program with regard to its implementation, the curriculum, materials to be used etc. will be better directed at them (DepEd). However, if allowed, as health officials, they will help to explain the rationale behind the program and the need to implement it. 

(Photo: Department of Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral during my first interview at Bo's Coffee in Glorietta 5)

With the large influence of the Catholic Church and with the help of conservative group, the protest continues to stop the implementation of the said program. Dr. Cabral mentioned that the criticism of the program stems mostly from the wrong appreciation of what sex education really means. She also adds that they should look at the curriculum and the materials first; many have instantly condemned it as a tool that will teach our children how to have sexual intercourse. According to her that the allegations of those of who protested to stop the program is not true. “A rational and objective approach will reveal that the teaching of sexuality through age-appropriate modules, which can be tailored even for very young children, is a beneficial program.” Dr. Cabral added.

“The program (sex education) seeks to empower our children by helping them become aware of the concepts of sex and sexuality in a manner that is consistent and compatible with each stage of their development, and thus be able to better protect and appreciate their private rights, as well as make wise and intelligent decisions,” she affirms. Dr. Cabral sees it to defend children from abuse and for teenagers it will teach them to make mature decisions and avoid such problems as early and unwanted pregnancies. The empowerment and concrete benefits to society that this knowledge brings far outweigh the many vague and irrational fears being spread around by its critics.

Aside from Sex Education, I ask three more questions to Dr. Cabral which includes population control, tobacco control and disaster preparedness. According to her DOH does not have a population control program, the more appropriate term being a “reproductive health program”. “We advocate education, information and awareness on such concerns as fertility, responsible parenthood, artificial and natural family planning methods, adolescent health, women’s health and others.” answering the topic on population control.

Second, on tobacco control, Dr. Cabral says that the DOH recognizes the huge public health impact of unabated and poorly regulated tobacco consumption in the country. It is estimated that the direct and indirect costs of ill health caused by tobacco use amounts to almost P200 B a year. “That is why the DOH has stepped up its campaign to help reduce these detrimental effects despite the opposition of our very powerful tobacco industry.” Recently DOH signed an Administrative Order mandating the use of graphic health warnings on the packaging of tobacco products, a method that has proven to be effective in reducing tobacco consumption in many countries. One of the countries that implemented the said graphic health warning is Australia where according to tobacco control advocates it decreases the number of smokers compare with the usual text based warning on cigarette packs.

Lastly, now that it’s back to school and its also rainy season, Dr. Cabral mentioned that DOH is n active in advising the public to prepare for diseases prevalent during this time of year such as water-borne diseases (i.e. diarrhea), influenza, leptospirosis and dengue. We disseminate information on signs and symptoms, modes of transmission, prevention and control of these diseases. “DOH is part of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, is always ready to respond to disasters” Dr. Cabral ended. 

Editor's note: This is the second time that the author interviewed DOH Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral and he is grateful of the trust that Dr. Cabral had given him. His first interview is about Sec. Cabral's view and project related to on AIDS, Maternal Health, Child Mortality and Church which happens last March 27, 2010.

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