Lower teen birth rate linked to education programme

The relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme in schools has played a key role in the 64% reduction in teen births over the past 15 years, the HSE has said.

In 2001, when RSE was still relatively new, the birth rate among 15 to 19 year olds was 20 per 1,000. The rate had dropped to 7.8 per 1,000 by last year.

Orla McGowan, education officer with the HSE’s Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme, said that RSE programmes in schools and youth centres had played “a crucial role in informing teenagers about healthy relationships and the potential consequences of early sex”.

This was evident in the gradual decline in the teen birth rate since the programme was introduced in 1997. In 2001, the number of teen births was 3,087. In 2016 it was 1,098, according to the latest figures from CSO.

“Previous research has found that those who received RSE were more likely to use contraception at first sex,” said Ms McGowan.

The news about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) was less positive with an 8.3% increase among 15 to 19 year olds in 2016.

While four in five sexually active teens said they always used contraception, condom use was low — at just 56%.

The issue of protecting teenage boys against the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), a commonly transmitted STI which can cause cancer, was raised yesterday at an Oireachtas health committee hearing.

The director of the National Cancer Control Programme, Dr Jerome Coffey, said it would be “a wise decision” to make the HPV vaccine available to boys as well as girls.

He said there were supplies currently available because of a drop in take-up rates among girls.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre provisional records show that in 2016, there were 990 cases of teenagers (aged 15 to 19) diagnosed with either chlamydia (608 cases) gonorrhoea (209) or genital herpes (173 cases). This represents an 8.3% increase in STIs in teenagers in 2016 compared to 2015.

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