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Countries of the Americas Promote Sex Education to Prevent HIV

Experts cite progress, call for more action on anniversary of ministerial accord

Washington, D.C., July 31, 2009 (PAHO) - A year after top health and education officials from Latin America and the Caribbean joined together to endorse comprehensive, evidenced-based sex education as a pillar of HIV prevention, supporters point to progress in promoting this approach.

Experts from 12 countries have agreed to meet in Mexico in September to make recommendations on effective sex education curricula for schools in Latin America and the Caribbean. Their work is aimed at fulfilling goals set by the First Meeting of Ministers of Health and Education to Stop HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Mexico City in August 2008.

At that meeting, 56 ministers of health and education from 30 countries in the Americas called for the following achievements by the year 2015:

  • A 75 percent reduction of the number of schools under the jurisdiction of ministries of education that do not offer comprehensive sex education.
  • A 50 percent reduction of the number of adolescents and youths who do not have access to health services that meet their sexual and reproductive health needs.
Research shows that 45 percent of new HIV infections worldwide occur in young people ages 15 to 24. While many youths acknowledge fears about HIV/AIDS, surveys show they lack accurate information about what circumstances put them at risk for infection. Comprehensive sex education programs can be effective in prompting youths to avoid risky sexual behaviors and to delay sexual initiation, studies show. In addition, young people are more likely to adopt safer sexual practices if they receive sexual and reproductive health education before becoming sexually active.

Based on such evidence, participants in the 2008 ministerial meeting formed a strategic alliance between the health and education sectors to promote comprehensive sex education and appropriate sexual and reproductive health services for youths as an essential part of HIV prevention.

In a statement today marking the anniversary of the 2008 meeting, Mexico's National Center for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS pointed to progress toward fulfilling the meeting's goals. This includes recent efforts by Mexico's ministries of health and education and the U.N. Regional Directors' Group for Latin America and the Caribbean to mobilize resources for the initiative, particularly to support technical cooperation among countries during 2009 and 2010.

In addition, health and education officials in Mexico have been working with a group of regional experts to develop technical instruments on comprehensive sex education, sexual and reproductive health, and HIV for use by health workers and educators who work with adolescents and youths.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Mirta Roses joined Mexico's National HIV/AIDS Center today in applauding recent progress but also in calling for more action to promote comprehensive sex education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and youths.

"We were very pleased with the ministerial declaration last year, but now it is time for action," said Dr. Roses. "Sexuality is an important part of being human, and it is expressed throughout life. We need to ensure that both formal and informal educational settings provide quality instruction that includes comprehensive education on sexuality."

"Though some countries report modest progress toward achieving the commitments, we are certain that they will soon implement activities that will enhance comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health promotion, based on scientific evidence and benefitting young people in Latin America and the Caribbean," said Mexico's National HIV/AIDS Center in its statement.

The goals of the 2008 "Prevention with Education" declaration were also discussed at the annual meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission (ECOSOC) in June in Jamaica. Participating countries designated Mexico to lead a regional intersectoral group to support the declaration's implementation.

U.N. agencies that are providing support for the initiative include PAHO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), which has provided US$800,000 in funding for the initiative. Support has also been provided by the U.N. Regional Directors' Group, chaired by PAHO Director Dr. Roses.

PAHO provided technical support for the "promotion of sexual health" component of the 2008 ministerial declaration and is a member of the intersectoral group (led by Mexico) that is responsible for supporting its implementation.

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PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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