Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Parental consent laws a challenge for health care providers

Laws requiring parental consent for young people to seek sexual reproductive health care and counselling, obtain birth control, and be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are proving to be challenging for health organisations.

During a three-day meeting between the Pan American Health Organisation, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the United Nations Children Fund, the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in adolescents and youth across the region was a major agenda item.

Highlighting that globally, young adults under 25 years of age account for the highest rates of new infections of STIs, including HIV, the group noted that being able to reach members of this vulnerable population in the Caribbean, especially adolescents aged 10-17 years, was proving difficult due to such laws.

The meeting also examined plans to move the region forward towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT) of HIV and congenital syphilis.

Attendees shared best practices of successful youth programmes in their countries and discussed challenges they face. Programmes aimed at encouraging teens to wait before they become sexually active, to protect themselves when they do become sexually active and to reduce the number of sexual partners they have, aim to reduce the risk to these young people.

The meeting identified a number of activities to move the region towards lower infection rates, including advocating for legislation changes and protecting youth from stigma and discrimination, which puts their health at risk.

In order to be validated for EMTCT, countries will need to submit reports demonstrating less than two per cent of children born with HIV for two consecutive years. While different countries across the region have different programmes, they are all guided by the same overall goal and will be measured under the same criteria.

The World Health Organisation guidelines work on a four-pronged approach toward the elimination of mother-to-child transmission. These are: prevention of HIV in young women; prevention of unintended pregnancies; prevention of mother-to-child transmission; and support for families affected.

Elimination will be accomplished by providing pregnant women with antiretroviral therapy during their pregnancy, and for life in some cases, and by providing the new-born babies with preventative drugs. Women are also counselled on their options for early feeding and are supported in healthy feeding practices, whether they choose to breastfeed or to administer formula. (JMB)

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