THE sexual and reproductive health of Jamaica's youth will be in the spotlight today as the country joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Population Day 2012.
Under the theme 'Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health — It's Your Right — Claim It With Responsibility', the main activity for today will be a symposium at Emancipation Park in St Andrew that will focus on three key areas:
* the history and development of reproductive health services in Jamaica;
* the legal/policy environment and adolescent sexual and reproductive health; and
* adolescent sex, sexuality and reproductive health in Jamaica.
The symposium is jointly sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the National Family Planning Board, and Courts Jamaica Limited.
Geeta Sethi, head of the UNFPA sub-regional office for the Caribbean which is based in Kingston, said it was necessary to modify the worldwide theme for this year's commemoration — Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services — to suit Jamaica's situation where persons ages 11 to 24 make up nearly a third of the population.
"Half of Jamaicans are below age 25 and adolescents are at an appropriate age where they should start thinking about their reproductive health. It is the time when one should get information on access to services and getting to a more conscious decision-making about one's reproductive health," Sethi told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
The exact figures were not immediately available, but hundreds of Jamaicans are believed to be among the almost 16 million adolescent girls worldwide who the UNFPA says become pregnant each year due to a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services. It is also estimated that adolescent girls accounted for three million of the 21.6 million unsafe abortions performed worldwide in 2008, while nearly 40 per cent of the 6,800 new HIV cases that occur each day are among young people.
"[Among] the leading cause of death among adolescent girls are unsafe abortion and all things related to pregnancy," Sethi said.
In the meantime, she said it was disheartening that Jamaicans were still uncomfortable discussing the sexual health of adolescents. "Fortunately, everyone realises the fact that this is the period (becoming adolescents) when the issues start coming to focus. However, it is still something that we are not entirely comfortable with," she told the Observer.
"But that's not helping anybody," she added. "We really need adolescents to get the information on services they need. Several studies have been done on sex education, in fact 17 studies in 17 different countries, and what we found out is that where the youth are provided with good information early, they delay their first sexual experience and also cut down on the number of partners they have."
According to the latest Reproductive Health Survey, compiled by the NFPB, 12 per cent of Jamaica's girls had their first sexual experience before age 15.
"The more information they get, the more informed decisions they make," Sethi declared.
Today's symposium will be opened to the general public and apart from Sethi, the Ministry of Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr Eva Lewis Fuller and Easton Williams, acting director of the PIOJ's Social Policy, Planning and Research Division, are scheduled to make presentations.