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According to latest laboratory testing results, one in ten teenagers in the Gisborne district is infected with a Sexually Transmitted Disease.
Tairawhiti is consistently the worst performing District Health Board in quarterly lab reports produced by Environmental Science & Research, the Crown Research Institute for health sciences.
“This is not just a blip in the numbers or a case of regularly ranking in the top 10, we are the worst district every quarter” said Manu Caddie who prepared a youth health services plan for Tairawhiti DHB in 2008. Most of the plan was shelved after the 2008 election and the subsequent shift in national health priorities.
“It is not surprising given STI prevention does not feature in the TDH Annual Plan, youth health in general was dropped off the priority list of the previous government and the last national sexual health strategy is over ten years old” said Mr Caddie.
Mr Caddie says sexual health education is obviously not effective for a high proportion of local young people.
“Teenagers are saturated with sexually explicit ‘entertainment’ on a daily basis and we now have a culture where early sexual activity is the norm rather than an exception.”
Mr Caddie says that while he has heard from pharmacists of a Rhythm & Vines attendee returning three times in two days for the ‘morning after pill’, the statistics demonstrate it is local young people who are continually compromising their reproductive health.
“In many ways it is perfectly natural for teenagers to be having sex, but the risk of catching a disease is clearly higher here than anywhere else in the country.”
“During the development of the Youth Health Plan we found that more than half the work of local school-based doctors and nurses was providing contraception and advice on sexual and reproductive health. We have just over 100 births to teenagers every year and a similar number of abortions – I know of a 12 year old who already had two abortions.”
Mr Caddie said his reading of the data suggests that Chlamydia rates in Tairawhiti have trebled since 2007 and Gonorrhoea cases have jumped from around 30 cases per year between 2004-2007 to 167 in 2010.
“We can attribute these dramatic increases to better awareness and more regular check-ups, but the rates of positive tests from clinic visits are continually increasing which suggests a real crisis and publicly funded messages that are not registering with those most at risk.”
Mr Caddie said he would like to see an outcomes evaluation of the 2008 TDH document Sexual Health of Tairawhiti Strategy and a clear plan of how TDH with the support of other stakeholders intends to turn the curve. “Family members, school teachers, churches, sports clubs and businesses can all make valuable contributions to youth health – it’s about young people taking more responsibility for themselves and all of us protecting future generations.”
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