Look After Your Sexual Health

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Helping people to make informed choices about their sexual health and reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections are two of the key aims of a new strategy launched today.

The Sexual Health Promotion Strategy, launching today on World Aids Day, sets out a vision for promoting positive sexual health, especially amongst young people. It focuses on prevention, training, education and access to services.

Key targets of the Strategy are:

* To ensure the vast majority (92%)of 11 to 16 year olds should not have experienced sexual intercourse by 2013;

* A reduction of 25% in the rate of births to teenage mother under 17 years of age by 2013;

* By March 2008, all patients assessed as clinically urgent to access specialist Genito-Urinary Medicine/Sexual Health services within two working days;

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* A reduction of 25% in the number of new episodes of gonorrhoea by 2013.

Launching the Strategy the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey said, "Sexual health is an extremely important public health issue in Northern Ireland. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are continuing to rise, placing considerable demands on sexual health services. Also whilst there has been substantial progress in reducing the number of teenage pregnancies, I want to see a further reduction.

"I have therefore set very clear targets within the Sexual Health Promotion Strategy to make real progress in these areas as well as enhancing access to our sexual health services. The strategy is however about so much more. We will only begin to truly tackle poor levels of sexual health by addressing attitudes to sexual behaviour."

The Minister continued, "The values of respect and responsibility therefore fully underpin this Strategy. Accurate information must also be readily available to enable people, particularly our young people, to have the knowledge to make their own informed decisions. The strategy therefore recognises the role of the family, churches and communities along with education and health professionals in addressing this serious issue."

The Action Plan that accompanies the Strategy includes 25 Actions including public information campaigns, prevention programmes, development of coping skills and lifestyles programmes, training of staff in sexual health skills and improving access to sexual health services. The implementation of Action Plan will be taken forward by multi-agency Sexual Health Promotion Network.

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride added, "It is vital that people look after their sexual health. Poor sexual health not only has its physical consequences but can also have a profound impact on your mental health and emotional well-being.

"The increase in STIs demonstrates the need to continue to reinforce the 'safer sex' message. People are clearly continuing to take unnecessary risks with their sexual health. Serious infections such as HIV continue to rise in Northern Ireland and although our infection rates are low in comparison to the rest of the UK, this trend is obviously worrying.

"I very much hope the actions we are taking now with the roll out of this Strategy will make a real difference to the future sexual health of the population of Northern Ireland and send out the message that everyone should treat their own and other people's bodies with respect and manage their sex lives with care."

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