Saturday, April 20, 2024

NEW YORK NEW YORK: Condoms and teen sex


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Should condoms be distributed in Barbados’ secondary schools?
That is the question thousands of parents and teachers are asking as the debate about condom distribution rages.
But Barbados isn’t alone.?All across the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere, the issue is on people’s minds as adults consider the vexing question about teenage sexuality and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, abortions and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, STDs, including HIV/AIDS and the human papilloma virus which is linked to genital warts and cervical cancer.
It’s a debate that is often driven more by religious factors, emotion and hypocrisy than by public health concerns. For what is really at stake but often ignored is the health of young people.
George Griffith, the Barbados Family Planning Association’s (BFPA) executive director, is quite clear about where the BFPA stands on the issue.
“They should be accessible to those persons, who really need them,” Griffith said recently in New York. “It would depend on which schools. They should not be placed in primary schools, but in secondary schools where it is clear that some students are already sexually active.
“There is no reason why it shouldn’t be done discreetly. It is already done in some nightclubs and some hotels and other places. We accept that if young people are into intimate relationships sexual activity is very likely, it is better to have condoms available for these young people who need them and therefore can be discreetly placed in the school system.”
What’s often missing from the discussion is what to do about teenagers having sex, contracting diseases, getting pregnant and then seeking abortions.
Unfortunately, too many critics of condom plans also oppose sex education in schools. As they see it, that’s a matter which should be left to the home and the church.
But Queen Elizabeth Hospital figures provided by the BFPA show why Barbados must address the matter.
Teenage pregnancy rates for 12-19-year-old mothers have risen in recent years, going from 494 in 2006 to 524 in 2009. Two 12-year-olds have given birth at the QEH. The figures don’t end there. Almost 400 youths had abortions at the QEH between 2006-2009, one a 13-year-old, according to the data.
For example, 90 youths had their pregnancies terminated at the hospital alone in 2006 but by 2008, the number had risen to 126.
It should be noted that the figures are for the QEH alone and therefore don’t tell the whole story.
Heated debate
In the United States, where the discussion about condom distribution in schools is just as heated as in Barbados, the prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics has come out in favour of availability in schools.
“This is a major public health issue that needs to be addressed,” said Dr David Kaplan, chair of the Academy’s panel that examined the issue of adolescence and sexual behaviour.
“In the interest of public health, restrictions and barriers to condom use should be removed,” stated America’s leading organization of pediatricians.
“For those communities in which there are a lot of STDs, condom distribution should be looked at as an important public health intervention,” added Kaplan, chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.
In New York City, where hundreds of thousands of West Indian youths, Bajans among them, attend classes in public schools, the Department of Education which runs the nation’s largest school system of 1.1 million students, all high schools are mandated, as part of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme, to have a health resource room where free condoms, health information and health referrals are available to students.
Every school must inform students of the programme but parents have the right to opt out of it.
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