The teen birth rate has fallen locally and statewide, but some health experts remain concerned about the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, especially among teenagers.
Data released by the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy showed the state’s teen birth rate fell from 13th in the nation in 2014 to 16th in 2015. At the same time, rates for STDs and HIV/AIDS remained high.
The state ranked in the top 10 nationally for chlamydia, gonorrhea and diagnosed rates of HIV/AIDS, the data showed.
Officials are particularly concerned by a jump in the rate of HIV/AIDS among teenagers. From 2014 to 2015, the rate increased 10.9 percent in 15- to 19-year-olds, per 100,000 residents.
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“First, anytime we see an uptick in HIV infections or STD infections, we should be alarmed. The other thing is, for young people, they’ve grown up in a culture knowing what HIV and AIDS is,” said Tracey Jackson, executive director of Piedmont Care. “They have some knowledge of it and that it exists, but yet, why are seeing this kind of rise?”
Doug Taylor, chief program officer with the S.C. Campaign, said South Carolina, and the region as a whole, has typically had a higher HIV/AIDS rate.
“In general, that is due to access to health care services and affordability of health care services” he said. “While the teen birth rate is going down, and teens are doing a better job using contraception, they may not be doing enough to address the STI infection rate.”
Jackson said discussing HIV is much tougher than talking about pregnancy prevention. Conversations involve drugs, sex and homosexuality.
“(It’s a) much more complex discussion, no matter who you are,” she said.
Only 59 percent of high school students reported using a condom the last time they had sex.
Data showed the reported use of all forms of birth control increased, however. Thirty-one percent of students reported using a form of birth control the last time they had sex.
Jackson said that showed teens are using birth control measures to prevent pregnancy, but aren’t using condoms, the sole form of birth control that also prevents disease.
“You can’t just talk about the (birth control) pill or the IUD (intrauterine device) or the LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptive), because none of those protect against infection,” she said.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported the the teen birth rate dropped by 64 percent statewide since the rate spiked in 1991.
For 15- to 19-year-olds, the rate was 26.1 births per 1,000 females.
“What that’s telling us is our rate of decline is slightly higher than some of the other states that are seeing a reduction,” Taylor said. “Going from 13th to 16th may not sound like much, but it is a significant difference.”
Beth De Santis, CEO of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said efforts are now focusing on communication between parents and children, comprehensive health education and normalizing conversations about love and sex.
“With 4,020 births to teens in 2015, we must find solutions when it comes to reaching youth where they need it most,” she said.
The organization has begun establishing “condom access points” in communities of need. That includes an access point at Piedmont Care’s office on Pine Street.
Access points are designed to give teenagers a safe place to get condoms without fear of judgment.
Abstinence is still the only guaranteed way to prevent infection and pregnancy, Jackson said, but providing access to birth control is vital.
“It takes programming, condom distribution, it takes a lot of things” to educate teens on pregnancy and disease prevention, she said. “It is a hard population to reach from the Piedmont Care perspective.”
So, Jackson and campaign officials are working with groups to get parents more involved. Ultimately, teens listen to their parents, even if parents don’t think they do, Jackson said.
“I’m not with their kid every day, so the parents need the knowledge, too. Then we talk to kids, and the parents and kids go home together,” she said. “The discussion can continue from there. They need to have the same information.”