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Sexual Reproductive Health 

Young people represent 24.5% of the total population of the Americas. In the next ten years, improving the sexual and reproductive health of this segment of the population will be important as we face limited resources and growing populations. The states of the Hemisphere will have to promote and protect the health and development of the young population to build their social capital and healthy populations in their most economically productive years.

Often, culture and social norms restrict access to basic information. Adolescent females are sometimes condemned to an unequal and more passive role when it comes to decisions about their sexual and reproductive health - they enjoy less autonomy and are often exposed to sexual coercion. Furthermore, in our male-dominated societies, adolescent males often feel compelled to engage in behavior that increases the risk of contracting HIV. Therefore, there will also be need to address the existing gender disparities in the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of youth.

Sexual Activity. In various countries of the hemisphere, the majority of young people become sexually active during adolescence. Approximately 50 % of women between 15 and 24 years old, in some countries of Central America, begin to have sex as early as 15 years old[1]/; the percentage is higher in rural areas and in younger populations with less education. Close to 90% of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean reported knowing at least one method of birth control, but between 48% and 53% of sexually active young people had never used birth control. Among those who did use birth control, only 40% of them did so regularly[2]/.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). In the region, the main causes of mortality for people between the ages of 15 and 24 include accidents, homicides, suicides, etc., followed by STDs such as HIV/AIDS, and complications related to pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) affect one in every 20 adolescents every year. The highest rates of infections are from chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomonas. Without long term treatment, STIs can increase the risk of developing cancer and HIV infections, and can be responsible for half of all infertility cases.[3]/ In the Caribbean, AIDS has already become a major cause of death for many young adults. In 2004 the estimated percentage of young people aged 15 to 24 years living with HIV in the Caribbean was 1.6%in females and 0.7% in males.

Teen Pregnancy. In half of the countries of the hemisphere, fertility rates among adolescents between the age of 15 and 19 years is above 72 per 1,000 women. It is estimated that 40 % of these pregnancies are unplanned.[4]/ In comparison with adult women, pregnant adolescent females face higher risks of adverse health consequences, are less likely to complete their education, have an increased risk of informal employment and poverty, and their children suffer more health risks.[5]/ In Latin America and the Caribbean, 45% (405) of the total number of deaths (900) due to unsafe abortions were recorded in women less than 24 years.[6]/

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*Text by: Dr. Matilde Maddaleno, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)



[1]     United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Reproductive Health; United States Agency for International Development. Reproductive, maternal, and child health in Central America: trends and challenges facing women and children: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Atlanta: CDC/USAID; 2005.

[2]     Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe. La vulnerabilidad reinterpretada, asimetrías, cruces y fantasmas. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL; 2002.

[3]     Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). Health in the Americas. Scientific and Technica Publication No. 622. Washington, D.C.: PAHO, 2007. (pp. 177-181). Can be consulted at : http://new.paho.org/hq/index.php?lang=en.

[4]     Idem

[5]     Idem

[6]     World Health Organisation (WHO). Unsafe Abortion. Global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2003, 5a Edition, Geneva, 2007.