Thursday, July 22, 2010

Irish Times: Abortion travel numbers to UK fall


Thu, Jul 22, 2010

The numbers of women travelling to Britain each year for abortions has decreased from more than 6,500 in 2001 to just under 4,500 last year, according to the Crisis Pregnancy Agency.

However the number of women 35 years and older facing crisis pregnancy has increased in the past 18 months, the agency says.

In its final report the research and funding body said that since it was established in 2001 the number of women going to the UK each year for abortions had dropped from 6,673 in 2001 to 4,422 last year.

The number of births to teenagers has dropped to 2,087 in 2001 from 2,223 last year.

The Crisis Pregnancy Agency was amalgamated in January into the HSE and becomes the Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

Speaking at the publication of the final annual report Minister for Health Mary Harney said she did not anticipate in the foreseeable future another abortion referendum, "whether it was the current Government or any possible alternative government".

She also said the agency should continue to produce an annual report and retain its influence. "I don't want to see any diminution of the responsibility of the agency to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies in Ireland and to assist those experiencing crisis pregnancy."

Chairwoman of the agency Katharine Bulbulia had expressed concern that it "would disappear into the HSE and lose visibility" but she was "really heartened" by the Minister's comments. "She did not want it to lose visibility, she actually instanced how it might retain it by producing its own annual report."

Director the agency Caroline Spillane said its research had shown that 28 per cent of women who have been pregnant have experienced a crisis pregnancy, while 23 per cent of men whose partners have been pregnant have experienced a crisis pregnancy.

The agency's report says that its counselling services have increased and that free support is available at more than 50 centres in the State.

© 2010


Huffington Post: The Myth of the Teen Pregnancy Epidemic

Kierra Johnson
Executive Director, Choice USA
Posted: July 21, 2010 07:58 AM

Driving down many highways in the US, one sees billboards that read, "Virgin: Teach your Kids It's Not a Dirty Word" or "Wait for the Bling." These billboards, funded by conservative organizations, perpetuate a myth that teen sex is a problem, a crisis and even an epidemic.

Conservative organizations are not the only ones that have bought into this mythology. Recently, a staffer from a prominent pro-choice organization was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "While we would all like and hope and prefer that young people abstain from having sex, that is not what many young people, unfortunately, are doing."

Is the fact that teens are having sex really so unfortunate?

People are having sex at every age. Sometimes it is safer. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it is with informed consent. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's healthy. Sometimes it's not.

People are also, therefore, experiencing the outcomes of sex at every age. The outcomes can be both intended and unintended. The outcomes can be both physical and emotional. The outcomes can be positive or less than favorable.

People in every age bracket have sex, get pregnant, have abortions and have children. Sex and the outcomes of sex are not exclusively experienced by teens. Actually, according to the Guttmacher Institute, teens have a lower rate of sexual activity (46 percent) than other age groups, and teens make up the smallest percentage of pregnancies (seven percent, including 18 and 19-year-olds), abortions (six percent) and births (10 percent). The vast majority of pregnancies, abortions and births occur after the teenage years.

So, if people of all ages are having sex and facing the results, why are teen sex and teen pregnancy the problems?

They're not. Teenage pregnancy isn't the epidemic. The lack of information and support for people to make healthy decisions about their lives is the true epidemic. The culture of shame and scapegoating around sex is the real problem. And this epidemic crosses generations, with young people feeling the brunt of it.

Teens need access to the information to make informed decisions regarding sex and the resources and support to handle the outcomes of having sex. They need comprehensive sexuality education, access to affordable maternal and child care and contraceptive services, to name a few. They need nurturing environments where they aren't judged or made to feel shameful about having sex or being young parents. That's all anyone needs, really, regardless of age.

Teens are asking for this access to information and resources. One of Choice USA's youth activists from Texas told us, "The pressure of sex and relationships is an extremely important issue young people have to face. These pressures can result in consequential outcomes, which explains why I think that it is ultimately important for youth to receive a comprehensive education to make them aware of all the possible options and choices they have."

But teens aren't only feeling pressure from their peers. They are feeling pressure from individuals and organizations that perpetuate the myth of the teen pregnancy epidemic, from media that says teen sex is something to be ashamed of, from campaigns that stem from the idea that teen sex and pregnancy must be ended. Added pressure and stigma that exudes from many teen pregnancy campaigns does little to help the perceived problem of teen sex and pregnancy.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) has shown that teen pregnancy campaigns that rely on shame and stigma don't work. In a recent white paper, NLIRH suggests that we should support policies that promote access to information and resources but only as "part of a platform to increase women's ability to make informed choices that are relevant to their lives, and not to make choices for them."

When framing teen sex and pregnancy as a problem of epidemic proportions, when telling teens there is one acceptable choice, we undersell young people's ability to make responsible and healthy decisions about their lives. And at the same time, we are ignoring that people need information and resources about sex throughout their entire lives, not just as teenagers. We need to look at those factors that impact people's whole lives -- access to education, health care and employment -- and stop using teen sex and pregnancy as scapegoats for social ills.

Young people know they need more information and support, and they're asking for help in order to make healthy and informed decisions about their lives. This is the opposite of an epidemic, it is mature decision making. We need to praise, not devalue, this good judgment. We need to make these resources available to teens and people of all ages, but with no strings and no stigma attached.

Follow Kierra Johnson on Twitter:


RTÉ News: More older women seek crisis pregnancy help

Thursday, 22 July 2010 08:05

There has been an increase in women over 35 seeking help during a crisis pregnancy, according to a report from the Crisis Pregnancy Agency.

The agency, which was merged into the Health Service Executive this year, is to publish its final report today.

Ahead of the publication this afternoon the former chairperson of the agency has said the HSE must support its strategic focus.

Often a planned pregnancy can become a crisis one, due to relationship break-ups, unemployment or financial difficulties.

The increase in women over 35 seeking help has been a trend for some years, according to the agency.

Concerns over the merging of the agency with the HSE emerge in the final annual report from the Crisis Pregnancy Agency.

It now operates as the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

Former Chairperson of the agency Katharine Bulbulia has warned that society should not be complacent about dealing with such a prevalent issue.

In the report she says it is vital the HSE supports the strategic focus of the Agency she once chaired, pointing out its crucial that happens so that those facing an unplanned pregnancy receive the support and care they need.


Irish Independent: Uptake of 80pc for teen girls' cancer jab

By Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent
Wednesday July 21 2010

EIGHT in 10 of the teenage girls offered the cervical cancer vaccine in schools last term availed of the jab, new figures revealed yesterday.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that 1,300 first-year girls received the first dose of the vaccine in May, as part of the limited rollout before it is extended in the autumn.

It protects against the types of HPV infection that cause seven out of 10 of all cervical cancers, and was offered to first-year girls in 21 secondary schools last term.

Parents were sent out information packs and consent forms in advance of the vaccination beginning.

Some parents have expressed reservations about vaccinating their daughters against a sexually transmitted disease at such a young age.

The rest of 30,000 first years, who will be going into second year this September, will be offered the vaccine next term as part of a catch-up programme.

Girls who enter secondary school in September will also be vaccinated.

The girls who received the vaccine last term will have to go to a health clinic this month for the second of three doses, which are part of the vaccination programme. A spokesman for the HSE said appointments had been given for the second dose and the vaccinations would take place in clinics before the end of this month.

A spokesman for the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) said it had received 11 reports of suspected adverse reactions associated with cervical cancer vaccines. One of these was linked to Cervarix, and 10 with Gardasil.

The majority of those reports received to date relate to expected adverse reactions for the product, and include cases of hypersensitivity, enlargement of the lymph nodes, fainting and an allergy-related skin rash.

The studies so far show that protection lasts for at least five years after a full course.

There are 250 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year, and 80 die of the disease.

The full impact of the vaccine will take many years to be seen.

The rollout of the vaccine was controversially delayed due to funding problems, but a deal was reached with drug companies earlier this year, which saw the cost cut from €16m to €3m.


Meanwhile, a new study published in the 'British Medical Journal' today shows the vaccine is helpful in preventing warts and low-grade lesions related to HPV.

The vaccine for some types of HPV has the potential to prevent about 70pc of cervical cancers and 90pc of genital warts, but what contribution the vaccines make to low-grade growths was still uncertain. So an international group of investigators set out to find how useful the vaccines were in preventing low-grade disease.

They studied results from 17,622 women aged 16 to 26 enrolled into two studies between December 2001 and May 2003.

Results showed that amongst previously unexposed women who had received the vaccine, it was highly effective for preventing low-grade lesions attributable to those types of HPV for up to four years.

- Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Newsweek: Should the birth control pill be sold without a prescription?

An over-the-counter version has long been called for, but it could soon be available if a group of practitioners and advocates have their way.

by Meredith Melnick

July 07, 2010

When Kelly Blanchard advocated to make oral contraceptives over the counter in a New York Times op-ed two weeks ago, she represented a decades-long movement among clinicians, researchers, and women’s-health advocates to remove prescriptions as a barrier to pill access. As early as 1993, Charlotte Ellertson—founder of Ibis Reproductive Health, of which Blanchard is now president—made a similar argument against the prescription status of oral contraceptives in the American Journal of Public Health.

Now a group of health workers and advocates are taking advantage of a mounting body of research that shows the pill could be safe for nonprescription use. They hope to have a proposal before the FDA within the year and an over-the-counter pill available in five years. And though their work focuses on female reproductive care, it offers a glimpse into what the future of American health care and medication could be.

Members of the Oral Contraceptive Over-the-Counter Working Group, a women’s-health clinical and research institution funded by the Hewlitt Foundation and administered by Ibis Reproductive Health, believe that prescription-only access to birth control is patronizing to women, limits contraceptive freedom, and is ineffective against intractably high teen-pregnancy rates. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to access problems because it is harder for them to get to a doctor without a parent’s help. Almost 20 percent of sexually active teens who do not want to become pregnant are not using contraceptives, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And teenage girls who do not use contraception during their first sexual experience are twice as likely to become teen mothers as their counterparts who use protection.

“I think we see a range of problems with access today; clearly there are economic barriers to access,” says Amy Allina, program and policy director of the National Women’s Health Network and a member of the working group. “But there are also barriers that have more to do with the logistics of insurance, or the policy at the doctor’s office.”

To date, the FDA has never approved an over-the-counter drug that is a “chronic use” medication—a drug taken daily for an unlimited amount of time. Though people use over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin on a daily basis, they are not technically approved for such use.

The majority of the market in oral contraceptives is in “combined” pills, containing both synthetic estrogen and synthetic progesterone. The estrogen elevates the risk of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots, but it is also responsible for clearing up acne, mitigating cramps, and lessening flow. Because of these secondary benefits, combined pills are more marketable to the general public and favored by many women.

The working group is hoping to bring a progestin-only pill or “mini-pill” to the over-the-counter market. It helps that this synthetic hormone already has an over-the-counter application: emergency contraception. Plan B and Next Choice (FDA-approved since 2006), as well as the recently committee-approved Ella, all consist of progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone.

The mini-pill is typically used by women who are lactating or who have a higher risk of stroke or heart attack, such as smokers and women over 35. Because it has a lower risk of negative side effects, it might be safer to use without a doctor’s input. “The FDA would consider applications to switch oral contraceptives from prescription to nonprescription marketing status,” says Shelly Burgess, an FDA representative. “Companies interested in marketing an oral contraceptive as a nonprescription product would need to provide data to demonstrate that the proposed oral contraceptive can be used appropriately and safely by consumers without the input of a health-care provider.”

That last bit usually means a potentially expensive and time-consuming doctor’s visit as well as an invasive pelvic exam. The questions are: Is the pill safe to use without a doctor’s examination? And will women still get cancer screening if they don’t have to go to their gynecologist for a pill pack?

And should that matter? “Holding birth control hostage until women have had a pelvic exam is a paternalistic attitude to women’s health,” says Dr. Daniel Grossman, a senior researcher at Ibis and an active member of the group. “The Pap smear is for cancer screening, not contraception, and we shouldn’t spread misinformation by linking the two.”

Until recently, family-planning centers that received federal funds followed the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines to perform a pelvic exam and Pap test as part of each appointment to address family planning. New guidelines suggest that women with two consecutive normal Pap smears need examinations only every two to three years, but many clinics continue to follow the outdated norm.

“At the moment, gynecologists are gatekeepers, insisting on regular vaginal exams that are really unnecessary,” agrees a senior researcher at a university medical school who did not want to be named for fear of upsetting colleagues in the obstetrics and gynecology department. “If the control is transferred to the women themselves, that would amount to a loss of revenue [for gynecologists], and they’re going to fight it.”

A 2006 study in the journal Contraception found that 68 percent of women surveyed wanted an over-the-counter option, with interest highest for women who were uninsured. But women on federal programs like Medicaid could run into problems. “When any medication is offered over the counter, it becomes unaffordable for women whose insurance will not pay for an over-the-counter medication,” says Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

When Plan B transitioned from a prescription to an over-the-counter drug, its cost skyrocketed. Advocates of the pill’s shift to over the counter are currently looking into ways to keep costs low. One strategy is pairing up with an off-brand production plant. “We could make safe, effective birth-control pills for pennies,” says Dr. Susan Harlap of the NYU School of Medicine, who is not affiliated with the working group. “Their low cost in many developing countries shows that pills are outrageously expensive here, and they needn’t be.”

But the actual cost of the pill isn’t the only consideration for low-income communities. Women who are more likely to have complications from it also tend to be from lower-income communities: poor women have chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and obesity in higher numbers, and are also more likely to smoke. Furthermore, a 2008 study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology of potential contraceptive users revealed that more highly educated women tended to be better at self-screening. “We tend to prioritize the needs of the group that is more marginalized, that has bigger barriers to health care in general,” says Amy Allina about her organization’s consideration of over-the-counter pills. “It pushed us toward the side of saying we don’t really think this is going to be an advance for the women we are most concerned about.”

Evidence from countries where birth control is available without a prescription goes against these arguments: they do not have higher instances of at-risk women taking pills. Further, researchers in Mexico found that women who buy pills directly from pharmacies often have greater understanding of the contraindications than women who visit clinics.

And evidence suggests that there is no harm done to cancer screening either: a two-year pilot program of pharmacy access to hormonal birth control in Washington state revealed that 98.6 percent of the women who were getting their pills over the counter had had a pelvic examination within the previous 24 months.

“Now, with health-care reform, that balance has shifted,” says Allina. “We see that [low-income] women are going to be able to get access to health services in other ways. It makes us less concerned about some of the unintended consequences to vulnerable populations.”

Meredith Melnick is a freelance journalist in New York City.


Feminist News: Louisiana Abortion Bills Become Law

July 7, 2010

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed three bills on Tuesday instituting new restrictions on abortion rights in the state. The first law requires women seeking abortions in Louisiana to undergo an ultrasound prior to the procedure. There will be no exceptions for victims of rape or incest Opponents remain concerned that the ultrasound requirement, an expensive procedure that may not be available at free clinics, will increase costs and make obtaining abortion services more difficult for women.

The second new law excludes providers from medical malpractice coverage for elective abortion procedures, reports the Associated Press. The third anti-choice bill signed by Governor Jindal yesterday prevents insurance providers in the new federal health insurance exchange from covering abortions.

Last month Governor Jindal signed House Bill 1370, a law that gives Louisiana's health secretary greater power to revoke abortion clinic licenses when there are health or safety concerns. According to Associated Press the law allows the health secretary to immediately suspend a clinic's license in the case of urgent health or safety risks. The health secretary is also granted broader discretion to refuse the renewal of existing licenses, as well as to deny new licenses to abortion clinics.

Media Resources: Associated Press 7/6/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 6/17/10; Louisiana State Government


Irish Times: 2006 Act which makes underage sex a crime is constitutional, court finds

by CAROL COULTER, Legal Affairs Editor

Mon, Jul 12, 2010

THE 2006 Act which criminalises underage sex is constitutional despite the fact that it discriminates between boys and girls in relation to prosecution for acts of sexual intercourse, the High Court has found.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 was introduced in the wake of the Supreme Court striking a section of the 1935 Act criminalising sex with an underage girl on the grounds that it did not allow for a defence of honest mistake as to the girl’s age.

The 2006 Act does permit such a defence and also redefined the crime of underage sex to include boys and homosexual sex within its remit. Heavier penalties were provided for in cases involving sex with children under 15, and where the perpetrator was in a position of trust or authority.

However, the Act discriminates between boys and girls in that boys can be prosecuted for sexual intercourse with girls under the age of 17, even if the sex is consensual, while girls cannot be prosecuted for sexual intercourse with underage boys, though they could be for other sexual acts.

In September 2007, a 15-year-old boy was charged with having sex with, and buggery of, a female person under the age of 17.

He took judicial review proceedings seeking declarations that sections 3 and 5 of the 2006 Act, under which he was charged, were contrary to the Constitution on the basis that they discriminated against him on the grounds of gender. One section provided for the offence, the other for the prosecution of boys only. The case was heard by Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne in the High Court and judgment was delivered in March, but has only recently been placed on the Courts Service website.

In it, she found that the Act was constitutional on the basis that, while it was discriminatory, such discrimination was justifiable because the consequences of sexual intercourse (early pregnancy) bore particularly heavily on girls. The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

© 2010 The Irish Times


Irish Times: Church's stance on sexuality no longer helpful


Sat, Jul 10, 2010

EVEN IN the mid-1960s, 1,700 babies were born to females under 20, and over 300 of these young mothers were under 18. However, because of social pressures then, four-fifths of these under-20 females had married by the time their babies were born.

Perhaps because most of the births were thus within marriage, there does not seem to have been much concern about the fact that so many young females were becoming pregnant.

Over 30 years later the total number of pregnancies involving those under 21 had almost doubled, increasing the under-20 birth rate by half when demographic changes are allowed for. However, by the 1990s pressures on pregnant young women to marry before the birth of their baby had largely disappeared, and this had the effect of increasing over seven-fold the number of non-marital births to females in that age bracket.

That change in behaviour seems finally to have alerted society to the undesirability of so many births involving young women, and in 2001 the Crisis Pregnancy Agency was established to address this issue.

The work of this agency has had very positive results. Since 1999 the pregnancy rate for females under 20 has been reduced by over one-sixth and the reduction in births to those under 18 has been almost 30 per cent. Moreover, the abortion rate for those under 20 has fallen by 40 per cent.

It is also interesting that the earlier continuous rapid increase from 3 per cent to 33 per cent in the proportion of non-marital births between the mid-1960s and 1999 came to a halt after the latter year, and this non-marital birth rate has remained around that 33 per cent figure.

One cannot help wondering why none of this good news seems to emerge in our media, with the result that there is little public recognition of the progress made in this social area.

I have great admiration for the work of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency whose young staff relate well to teenagers, and whose research has yielded evidence-based data that has been shown to carry conviction with young people. In particular, teenagers, extremely subject to peer pressures, tend to be credulous about the extent of sexual experimentation within their own age group – many of them believing the myth that 70-80 per cent of under 17s engage in sexual activity. Persuading that age group that serious research shows this to be false, and that only 20 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys are sexually active before the age of 17, has been an important part of the agency’s work.

Other factors that have been found to discourage early sexual activity are factual information on the scale of sexually transmitted infections and the research which has shown that both men and women who have had their first experience of sexual activity at an early age are more likely to regret that timing than others who have waited until later.

The success of the agency’s work has been due to the fact that it is careful to avoid a normative approach: its staff do not attempt to tell young people how they ought to behave for they know that if they try to go beyond their brief in this way they could quickly lose their effectiveness.

Yet young people need to be helped to understand that their long-term happiness is likely to derive from establishing a successful intimate relationship with a partner – a relationship in which sex will play a major role.

Traditionally the role of providing this kind of guidance was left to the churches. And up to the 1960s, church teaching about avoiding sexual involvement before marriage carried widespread acceptance.

As recently as 1981 well over half of all women were married by age 24. Today, with earlier puberty; with education to a much later age; with four-fifths of women aged 25-34 engaged in paid work (as against one-quarter 30 years earlier); and with women reluctant to have children before their late 20s or early 30s; that traditional situation has been transformed. Today the proportion married by 24 has been reduced to just 8 per cent.

Today’s long gap between puberty and child-bearing in a stable relationship, together with the ready availability of contraception, has for most young people made unrealistic the traditional concept of abstention from sexual activity for a period that can now be as long as 15 or 20 years.

Church teaching has not adjusted to this new situation yet for very many children at school religious instruction is the only guidance they receive on this crucial issue. The problem is that our past excessive dependence on the churches has left a most unfortunate gulf in this key area just when within second-level education there is a clear need to supplement discouragement of early sexual activity with more positive guidance about the role of sex in establishing stable relationships.

Unhappily, church teaching on sexual matters has ceased to be helpful. Indeed, this traditional teaching has now become something of an obstacle to providing young people with realistic guidance that will help them to understand the crucial role of sex in establishing a stable long-term relationship.

In the absence of such relevant and credible guidance there is clearly a danger that many young people may succumb to the attraction of sexual activity for its own sake. That may make it more difficult for them to establish a stable long-term relationship.

Relationships and sexuality education within the framework of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) offers the key to this problem, but despite much progress by the Department of Education the continued absence of a senior-cycle curriculum for SPHE and resistance to sex education in some schools continue to delay progress.

© 2010 The Irish Times


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

IPPF: Huge success for Gardasil [HPV Vaccine]

Rates of new genital wart infection in Australia have plummeted, research shows, in an early positive sign of the success of mass Gardasil vaccinations.

A study taking in patient data from sexual health clinics across the country has shown up to a 60 per cent drop off in new genital wart cases since 2007, when the anti-cancer vaccine was rolled out.

Gardasil works by preventing the transmission of four strains of the Human papillomavirus (HPV), two of which cause cervical cancer and two which cause genital warts.

Experts say while its effect on cervical cancer rates would take longer to materialise, the vaccine's ability to prevent a less serious though embarrassing problem was now clear.

"Genital warts are distressing to the patient, as well as being difficult and expensive to treat," said Professor Basil Donovan, head of the Sexual Health Program at the University of NSW's National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research.

"While we knew from clinical trials that the vaccine was highly effective, Australia is the first country in the world to document a major benefit for the population as a whole."

Free Gardasil vaccinations were offered to Australian girls and young women, aged 12 to 26 years, and about 80 per cent of those eligible are thought to have taken up the offer.

Researchers pooled data from eight sexual health clinics Australia-wide, covering 110,000 new patients and the period from 2004 to 2009.

About 6000 new cases of genital warts were detected and analysis revealed a 60 per cent drop-off among women aged under 27, while there was no change among older women or gay men.

Heterosexual men recorded a smaller decline in new genital wart cases of just over 30 per cent, the result of increased immunity among their younger female partners.

"The high coverage by the vaccination program has had a large, population-level impact on the incidence of genital warts in young Australian women," the research concluded.

"A more moderate impact for heterosexual men has presumably resulted from herd immunity."

Herd immunity theory proposes that, in diseases passed from person to person, it is more difficult to maintain a chain of infection when large numbers of a population are immune.

The research will be presented this week at an international HPV conference in Montreal.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 2010


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Irish Independent: Anxiety over HIV has faded, but the danger has not

By Eilish O'Regan
Monday July 05 2010

In the 1980s it was the known as the "plague" and those infected with the HIV virus faced isolation, stigma and agonising death.

By 2010, HIV has joined that list of illnesses which barely command a few paragraphs in newspapers as the latest statistics on the number of people infected are reported.

We have gone from one extreme to another, but has a dangerous complacency set in? Those on the frontline treating HIV are very concerned.

The most recent report, for 2009, showed a continued rise in the number of gay and bisexual men testing positive for HIV, with the highest ever level of new cases.

The number of new diagnoses among gay men rose from 97 cases in 2008 to 138 in 2009, a 42.3pc increase. Young men under 30 accounted for 35pc of all cases.

Lest people think it is a gay disease, the portion of heterosexual people who were diagnosed with HIV made up 47pc last year -- compared to 46pc in 2007. They accounted for 156 new cases of the disease last year -- 96 female and 60 male.

Significantly, injecting drug users, who used to be high on the list, dropped to 30 of the new cases as the message about not sharing needles got through.

The figures should set off alarm bells but somehow the worrying trends have failed to wake up health authorities or the public.

When the statistics are broken down further the age group of people involved is striking. More than a quarter were 15-29 years of age. Yes, 15-year-olds are testing HIV positive. And 31pc of all age groups are female.

We don't hear much about HIV prevention messages these days and this inevitably puts people off their guard. This is coupled with the belief that HIV is now a treatable disease with drugs available to slow its progression.

Someone in their early 20s diagnosed early with HIV can avail of treatments and look forward to a relatively normal life.

But those with delayed diagnosis and treatment increase the rate of illness and premature death. They are also more likely to pass on the disease.

There are plenty of clinics now available to people to test for HIV, not just those in risk groups.

Doctors too need to be more courageous in suggesting the test for patients who present with symptoms which might indicate possible HIV. Many medics here say they are still seeing too many people diagnosed too late.

If infection is missed at an early stage there may be no symptoms for 10 years, until the patient falls seriously ill with a potentially fatal Aids-related condition.

Last year, two people died here of AIDs and 1,039 cases have been diagnosed since counting began in the late 1980s.

Ireland is not unique in these HIV trends. In 2008 an estimated 33.4m people were living globally with the virus, and in Europe the rate of infection is on the rise also.

The dilemma for authorities is whether to bring back the hard-hitting campaigns or go for a more moderate safe-sex message.

The problem is many countries are doing very little to raise awareness and are diverting resources elsewhere. The swine flu campaign is a good example of where resources were consumed at the expense of others.

Whatever public warning and awareness plan is implemented it needs to be more broad based than previously, not just spotlighting gay men.

The overall cost would be considerably less than treating this expensive infection.

- Eilish O'Regan


New York Times: Spain - Looser restrictions on abortion take effect

July 5, 2010

A new law allowing abortion without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy went into effect on Monday, but the Constitutional Court could intervene to suspend or change it. The law, approved by Parliament in February, allows abortions without parental permission for 16- and 17-year-olds, although the parents must be informed. It also declares a woman’s right to abortion and eliminates the threat of imprisonment. The conservative Popular Party is challenging the 14-week clause as unconstitutional, and the Constitutional Court must decide whether to suspend the law while it studies the appeal.


Monday, July 5, 2010

IPPF: Pope gives top job to abortion hardliner

Cardinal Marc Ouellet has said terminations are wrong even in rape cases.

The pope handed one of the most powerful jobs in the Vatican to a cardinal who said recently that abortion was wrong, even in cases of rape.

The reshuffle also saw a senior prelate moved from the institution that helps frame the Catholic church's "pro-life" doctrines after he appeared to question the announcement by another archbishop that the mother of a child rape victim had removed herself from the church by arranging for her daughter to terminate her pregnancy.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella was transferred to head a new department charged with stemming the advance of secularisation, particularly in Europe.

It is the appointment of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, however, that is likely to arouse most controversy. As prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Ouellet, until now the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, will be responsible for drawing up shortlists from which the pope decides who is to get a bishop's mitre.

The prefecture is often regarded as the third most important job in the Vatican administration since its incumbent can prevent even the most gifted priest from rising to a position of leadership in the church. Ouellet has in the past been touted as a successor to Benedict.

This year, Ouellet provoked what the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation termed a "firestorm of criticism" when he told an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that terminating a pregnancy was a "moral crime" even in rape cases. He said he understood that a sexually assaulted woman should be helped and her attacker held accountable. "But there is already a victim," he said. "Must there be another one?"

Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois, said she was outraged by Ouellet's views and accused him of trying to get abortion recriminalised – a claim a spokesperson for the archdiocese denied.

Four days after he made his remarks, the Quebec national assembly passed a unanimous resolution affirming women's right to free and accessible abortion.

Last year, there was worldwide controversy when Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife in Brazil said the mother of a nine-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather had excommunicated herself from the Catholic church.

In response, in an article published on the front page of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, Fisichella wrote: "Before giving thought to excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life of this girl."

He was replaced as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life by a Spanish prelate close to the conservative Opus Dei. Fisichella's appointment to head the nascent Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation is not a demotion, but it marked the second time in a week that the pope sent a clear signal that he would not tolerate public dissent.

On Monday, the Vatican announced that the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, had come to Rome to explain himself to the pontiff after apparently questioning priestly celibacy and accusing a fellow cardinal of mishandling a prominent sex abuse scandal.

Source: The Guardian, 30 June 2010
Author: John Hooper