The Malaysian government is to give free condoms and syringes to about 600,000 drug addicts to cut an alarming rise in HIV infection caused by unprotected sex and needle sharing, a move prominent religious leaders strongly oppose as immoral. The leaders say giving out free condoms and needles will encourage illicit sex and promote drug use. 'It is wiser to confine drug addicts and HIV carriers in isolated islands to protect society,' said prominent Muslim cleric Harusaani Zakaria. 'It's preposterous ... this move to distribute free condoms,' said A. Vaithilingam, chairman of the National Hindu Council. The Most Reverend Murphy Pakiam, the Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, agrees. 'We don't see this method as a solution to the problem,' he said. But medical experts and human rights activists dismiss the objections as unrealistic because more than 75 per cent of the nation's 62,000 known HIV/Aids sufferers were drug addicts who contracted the virus from needle sharing. 'Drug addiction is worsening and the next best alternative to eradication is to ensure there are enough free needles on the streets so contaminated needles are not shared,' said Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women's Aid Organisation, an NGO championing feminist causes. 'Drug usage is rising because of access to drugs, not because of easy access to needles.' The government had long opposed the idea, preferring to subject addicts to 'cold turkey' rehabilitation at military-style camps. But with a relapse rate of 80 per cent, the programme is a failure. Health Minister Chua Soi Lek is willing to bite the bullet. 'I know I have stepped on a minefield,' he said. 'But we must face the fact that contaminated needles are shared and because of that the HIV virus gets passed around.' About 20 HIV infections are reported a day, but experts say unreported cases are five times that number. 'There will be some 600,000 HIV cases by 2015,' Dr Chua said, defending the programme as a medical and not a moral matter.