HONOURABLE DAMIAN E. GREAVES
MINISTER FOR HEALTH, HUMAN SERVICES, FAMILY AFFAIRS & GENDER RELATIONS
ON WORLD POPULATION DAY
JULY 11, 2006
THEME: “SEXUAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND YOUNG
The fact of procreation has become an issue of great danger! If this were to have been the headline of a newspaper twenty five years ago, it would have been received with much skepticism, and perhaps evoked some laughter. The very thought is ridiculous. The propagation of a species is one of the most natural functions, occurring in every part of nature, from the pollination of a flower to the courtship ritual of turtle doves. That is the way God intended it. Perhaps though, it bore in itself the seeds of its own destruction, as the imperative to procreate is so powerful that if it ever became an issue of danger, the species concerned would nevertheless continue to court danger.
It is unfortunate, but in the world of today, every pregnancy is an indication that someone has indulged in risky behaviour. This has terrible ramifications for the world. As we celebrate World Population Day, it behooves us to focus on this unsavoury reality. What will become of the world? One thing is certain. There will continue to be people. Nature has seen to that. What we have to be concerned about is the quality of health of those people we are bringing into the world; our children, and consequently, our own health. So the question of sexual reproductive health, especially among young people, becomes an issue of mammoth importance.
A cursory look at some demographic statistics that relate to St. Lucia will show how important the issue is. We are looking at the period 1985 to 2005. In 1985, when the HIV virus was first identified here, there were 14 reported cases. In 2005 the number of reported cases grew to 77. The total number of reported cases up to 2005 was 546. Reported cases by age and gender indicate the highest incidence between 25 and 49 years, the most productive sector of our population. Females between fourteen and twenty four have a higher incidence than males. Reported cases of AIDS in the same period was 278 of which 246 have died. This indicates a very high mortality rate, even with the advent of drugs that are known to work. We must stress that the statistics refer to the reported cases. This may well refer to the tip of the iceberg, as stigma and discrimination keep many away from reporting.
Social, economic and political forces are rapidly changing the ways young people must prepare for adult life These changes have enormous implications for adolescents’ education, employment, marriage and childbearing, but also for their sexual and reproductive health and behaviour. As a group, adolescents have sexual and reproductive health needs that differ from those of adults in important ways, and which remain poorly understood or served in much of the world. Neglect of this population has major implications for the future, since sexual and reproductive behaviours during adolescence have far reaching consequences for people’s lives as they develop into adulthood.
Meeting the reproductive health needs of young people means ensuring they have accurate information - and someone to talk to - about sexuality, family planning, childbearing and disease; it means ensuring their access to the means to prevent disease and unintended pregnancy.
Widespread reluctance among adults, whether parents, teachers, or policymakers, to openly discuss issues of sexuality with young people, this lack of openness - and leadership - is undermining young people’s reproductive health and, in too many cases, threatening their very lives. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) worldwide, representing two-thirds of all cases in the developing world. Today, half of all new HIV infections occur among people under the age of 25.
“It’s time to stop looking at reproductive health as a sex issue and start looking at it as a health issue.” says a Health expert, Ms. Coen. She further stated that there is a misconception that sexual and reproductive health education will encourage sexual behaviour and lead to higher rates of abortion, unintended pregnancy and STIs among youth, but “The Dutch experience proves that talking openly about sexuality and making services available to young people does just the opposite; it benefits their reproductive health.”
“Concepts of morality and tradition and the taboos associated with sexuality prevent the kind of healthy exchange of information and open communication that young people desperately need to educate themselves,” says another expert, Dr. Greene. “It is unfortunate that some in the international community are bound by the same taboos, as it is young people who pay the price.”
Young people have little sense of their mortality, and in fact feel invulnerable. Death happens to the other person, so they take risks, from riding pillion on bikes without crash helmets, to risky sexual behaviour. There is nothing strange about the indulgence in risk-taking, if we adults remember our own youth. We had to contend with peer pressure to behave like the group. Remember how powerful that force was? We wanted the approbation of those of our own age group more than our parents’ or our teachers’. That’s just the way it was, and is! Perhaps there lies the answer! Since the peer group exerts such influence, if the peer group is harnessed to educate young people as to the behaviour changes that are necessary for survival, they will be listened to and emulated.
Every individual has the task of protecting himself from the onslaught of the AIDS pandemic. It is only when that truth sinks home that some gains will begin to be seen. As long as stigma and discrimination continues to be fed by the demands of the bigoted to quarantine people living with AIDS, or informing the public who they are, as long as they continue to ignore that the power lies within them to make the right choices in protecting themselves at every sexual encounter, the power of HIV/AIDS will not diminish. We must therefore educate our youth to understand the truth about the transmission of the virus so that they will be able to debunk the myths.
According to Ms. Coen, “We want young people to make healthful decisions about their reproductive and sexual lives, but that means we must provide them with the tools they need to succeed. As adults, our instinct is to protect our children. It is clear that the best way to do that is to inform them.” I thank you.”
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