Press – The NATION – Barbados, West Indies
The following is the article. It appeared in the WEEKEND NATION on November 29, 2013 on Pages 22 and 23:
by Sanka Price
THE MOVE TO ALLOW 16-year-olds here to seek medical attention without the permission of their parents has been lauded by a British sexual health educator.
Helen Knox also commends the Ministry of Health for their intention to offer 11- and 12-year-olds the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV), the sexually transmitted virus which can lead to cervical cancer and cause genital warts.
However the specialist nurse and columnist said a more intense sexual health education programme in schools was needed here to make
adolescents fully aware of the challenges and consequences of their behaviour.
Speaking to the WEEKEND NATION hours before leaving Barbados yesterday, Knox said it would be an “excellent change” if 16-year-olds could go to a doctor or a clinic independent of their parents to seek help and advice.
“If teens are responsible enough to want to protect themselves they should be facilitated to do so,” she said.
Explaining that this was something already being done in Britain, Knox said: “We work within two legal guidelines – one, Gillick Competency, which encompasses any medical or dental issue, with which a young person can give consent; and Fraser Guidelines, which relate specifically to contraception and sexual health issues.
“This means that any young person under the age of 16 who understands and fits certain criteria can give their consent to a medical procedure or treatment without their parents being present, or them being informed about [the child’s] visit, treatment or other care.”
As for the HPV vaccinations, Knox, who has been a Better Health magazine columnist since 2001, said this was an excellent measure and should be extended to boys.
“They did that in Australia and have superb results. We’re starting to do that soon in the UK,” she added.
Though noting the cost of the vaccines may be an inhibiting factor, Knox said if possible they should also be made available “to all girls as even if they have already started to have sex because there’s no guarantee they will have encountered the strain that it is protected against yet. There are, after all, over 100 strains of HPV and the vaccine protects against two or four depending which vaccine it is”.
Knox, who was described by Britain’s Nursing Times magazine as “a courageous innovator” for her pioneering work in sexual health
education, said that this branch of education was a necessity as it could help teens to be more responsible.
“They treat sex as a game and don’t understand this is an adult activity with adult consequences,” she said. “They cannot understand the risks and they are taking in the same way as an adult can because their brains haven’t fully matured to [appreciate] risk the same way.”
A sexual health programme, she added, would show adolescents the implications of what could happen to their long-term health – both mentally and physically – by having unprotected sex.
The specialist nurse emphasized this was critical as long-term mental health problems affected both males and females when it came to such things as pregnancy terminations.
Knox said adults had a major responsibility to play as well when it came to nurturing children to ensure they were mature enough
to do the “right thing”. As such, she said the influence of the adult dance styles here could have a negative impact on children.
“They are copying at a very young age inappropriate [things] they are exposed to; things [which go] beyond their actual understanding through the Internet or TV, music videos and so on,” she said.
On the latter, Knox said: “Young people need to understand the dangers of Internet and porn. Porn is not real sex, it’s acted activities which can take place without you, but all porn actors have to have regular STI/HIV tests to be able to stay in work and stay healthy.
“Without that they cannot work. Young people are not behaving in the same sort of responsible way. They don’t even know about the diseases that await the risks to future fertility from sex, like chlamydia, which is internationally more common than HIV and also facilitates transmission of other infections tenfold.
“[Also] young people don’t understand the implications of videos online and photographs. All postings online can hurt them for years to come. Employers now regularly scroll the Internet for information about people and it’s well known that people may not get a job because of posts that they have placed on sites like Facebook etc. Once something is on the Internet it is there and stays there. Even if it’s taken down there will be a ghost copy somewhere,” she said.
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