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Sexually Transmitted Infections Epidemic: Is Sex Education the Answer?

Posted: December 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Education, News, Not Porn, Sex, Socially Engineered, Standout, That Human Condition | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sexually Transmitted Infections Epidemic: Is Sex Education the Answer?

YEAH CondomsA community based sexual health group has raised the alarm about the level of risky sexual behaviour among young people, saying ignorance on the subject could make young Australians vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

Alischa Ross, the founder of Youth Empowerment Against HIV AIDS – YEAH – says her group sends volunteers into schools and public events such as music festivals to educate young people about safe sex.

“It’s very disturbing actually what we’re seeing in Australia at the moment is we’ve hit epidemic levels of Sexually Transmitted Infections amongst young people,” she said.

There has been a 20 per cent increase in the rate of infection among young people in the last three years, with chlamydia and gonorrhoea among the biggest culprits. Ms Ross says the trend points to more risky behaviour and widespread complacency.

“Some of the myths that they have around sexual health include things like if I’ve had a pap smear then that means I’ve had a sexual health test; actually it doesn’t,” Ms Ross said.

Alischa Ross

Ms Ross says the sexual behaviour of young people raises concerns about HIV infection. She says safe sex needs to be a significant part of the new national schools curriculum.

“People don’t even think HIV still happens in Australia anymore. I think there’s some pretty simple information that we could be passing on to young people in schools.”

“I think it does. I know that’s going to be really challenging, particularly for some of the faith-based schools, but the reason I say that is because condoms save lives,” she said.

She says although HIV is not a huge problem in Australia, it will become more of an issue in the near future.

“We know that by looking at the trends of HIV and what we’ve seen happen worldwide for the last 30 years, is that where we get high incidents of Sexually Transmitted Infections spreading, HIV follows,” she said.

YEAH was founded in 2005, YEAH runs three main programs funded by the Commonwealth Government that are designed to empower young people aged 15-29 and those who work with young people to led and take action in preventing the spread of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections. Check the YEAH site for more info and resources: www.redaware.org.au

Alarmist? La Trobe University sexual health professor Anne Mitchell says she commends YEAH for raising the awareness of the risks of unprotected sex, but she does not share the concern about HIV and young people.

“I think it’s probably a little bit alarmist” said Mitchell “You have Sexually Transmitted Infections that can predispose you to infection with HIV, but you have to be having sex with somebody who’s got HIV to pass on and we haven’t seen that kind of epidemic take off amongst young people.

“We do find that young people are very knowledgeable about HIV, we’ve been testing their knowledge on HIV for the past 15 years and their knowledge of HIV has stayed consistently high, whereas their knowledge of other STIs, particularly those they’re more exposed to, isn’t as good.”

Professor Mitchell says 30 per cent of people have had sex by the age of 16 and that jumps to 50 per cent for 18-year-olds.

She agrees that the national curriculum has to address sexual health. “There are a lot of young people having sex and we need to be emphasising safe sex as much as we can, that is condom use for the prevention of STIs not just as a contraceptive,” she said.

“But the thing we’d probably most like to see is young people feeling that when they’re sexually active they do have a responsibility to have sexual health checks and to be sure that they don’t have a disease that’s untreated and is being passed around.”

Professor Mitchell says condom use should definitely be part of the national curriculum. “The national curriculum isn’t going to rewrite the book, there are curriculum guidelines in every state and territory for this area of education and the national curriculum will be canvassing the best of those and putting together a program that’s basic sexual health information for young people,” she said.

“Condom use is like the lynch pin of most sexual health education. So I don’t think there’s any doubt at all that the people that are developing the national curriculum will overlook that one – it’s critical.”

The board appointed to devise Australia’s national schools curriculum has only just begun considering the part of the curriculum that will encompass sex education.

RELATED: An annual snapshot of the nation’s sexual health has found a dramatic surge in some Sexually Transmitted Infections. Cases of chlamydia are at epidemic levels, up 17 per cent to 74,000, while new cases of gonorrhoea rose 25 per cent to just over 10,000 in 2010.

Researchers and health advocates say there is a need for more awareness and intervention programs, particularly in Indigenous communities. The national surveillance report for HIV, viral hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections was conducted by a research team from the University of New South Wales.

Associate Professor David Wilson says the increase in chlamydia rates has reached “epidemic” proportions among 15- to 30-year-olds.

“Over 74,000 people were diagnosed with chlamydia; that is an 18-per-cent increase from the previous year,” he said.

Professor Wilson says increased testing has not kept pace with a jump in diagnosis over the past year, and is calling for greater funding for awareness programs designed to curb infection.

“Prevention programs are starting. There has been some piloted programs in place. These are good measures but not enough,” he said.

“We need to have some targeted, good prevention programs to reduce these epidemics that are clearly on the rise.”

Researchers say the study shows disproportionate rates of gonorrhoea and chlamydia among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly in remote and very remote communities.

The survey showed 36 per cent of all gonorrhoea cases in 2010 and 9 per cent of all chlamydia cases were among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

James Ward, head of UNSW’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Program, says a large pool of existing infection, youth demographics, and mobility are driving the Sexually Transmitted Infections epidemic.

“I think we need to have some systematic indicators for primary health care services delivering to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said.

But the UNSW report is not all gloomy. Researchers say low levels of syphilis mean eradication is within reach, while HIV infection rate is continuing to plateau, with 1,000 new cases annually.

Check the Youth Empowerment site:  http://www.redaware.org.au/

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source: abc

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