Monday, 20 June 2011

Speaking truth to power

Last week we saw the news that STI rates amongst young people had reduced. Over a decade ago when developing the sexual health and HIV strategy many of us predicted this would happen as we tested more young people and diagnosed previously undiagnosed infection. We also predicted it would initially look like rates were increasing. Great news that we are now seeing a reduction in STI rates amongst young people.

Similarly when the last TP rates were released we again saw a reduction in the number of teenage pregnancies. Both of these stats, coupled with evidence of a growing majority consensus about the importance of good quality sex and relationships education and improving access to services for young people indicate that at the end of the original TP strategy and the strategy for sexual health and HIV we are making headway in improving young people's sexual health - it is clear that we are on the right track and we must continue being driven by the evidence of what works.

But it is increasingly obvious that this progress hangs in the balance. I am having an increasing number of discussions with colleagues in the public and voluntary sector across the country who are facing cuts which they are really concerned put improvements in young people's sexual health at risk.

The math behind this one is simple - if we don't invest in education and prevention including contraceptive and sexual health services, then significantly more investment will be required to test and treat for sexually transmitted infections and for maternity and abortion services. And of course these costs will not be incurred 5 years down the line - they will often be in the same financial year.

At the same time, for whatever reason it seems the message that progress has been made, is not being heard by some. Some journalists and others are clearly reluctant to agree or report on progress, opting instead for tales of 'soaring rates'. Locally the champions for young people's sexual health are reducing in number - many are being made redundant, redeployed or with a generic/wide brief.

Like hundreds and thousands of others, I have worked too hard over the last 15 years, I don't want to see the progress in provision of support to young people decline. We know so much more about what young people want and need to be confident in their sexuality and sexual choices. We also know so much about what works. So its important that we replace some myths with facts and speak truth to power truth clearly and consistently. Here are some of the things I keep saying, and encourage you to do the same.

young people have a right to high quality sex and relationships education at home and school, and they must be able to access services

neither teenage pregnancy rates, or sexually transmitted infections are soaring: data demonstrates that we are on the right track and we need to do more, not less, learning the lessons of the past decade about what works

good quality SRE and services does work in improving young people's sexual health - our evidence is there

investing in sexual health makes good economic sense - if we don't invest early then we will pay later

teenage pregnancy and sexual health continue to be important issues for this Coalition Government and this priority must be translated into local delivery.

Desiderata states we should speak 'our truth quietly and clearly'. In the context of structural change and cuts to services I shall continue to do so at every opportunity, and I know I will not be alone. If you haven't already visit and support our young people's campaign to create a sex: positive future. Its quick, free, easy and important as it will help create a positive open culture where young people can both enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual and relationship choices and sexual health.

Follow me on twitter @simonablake
Follow Brook @brookcharity or @besexpositive
Be our friend on facebook - brookcharity

No comments: