Health fairs to focus on adolescent needs

How would you like to reach teens with important prevention information about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV before they enter your exam room? A group of national health associations has launched a community awareness initiative to focus on these issues.

Two Washington, DC-based advocacy groups, the Association of Reproductive Health Profess ionals (ARHP) and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, recently held a briefing on adolescent health for U.S. Congressional members and staff members. The event was co-sponsored by the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Caucus.

Not only did the briefing give Congressional members an overview of the risks teens face when it comes to pregnancy, STDs, and HIV, it provided a way to take the message to the streets through the concept of community-based adolescent health fairs. Each briefing attendee received a comprehensive kit, complete with sample announcements, patient education handouts, and other planning tools to help Congressional members sponsor adolescent health fairs in their districts.

Each year, almost a million teen-age girls become pregnant. Three million teens — about one in four sexually experienced adolescents — acquire an STD each year. By the end of 1997, there were nearly 3,000 teen-agers known to have full-blown AIDS. While professionals within the family planning community are acutely aware of the health risks faced by adolescents, the same level of knowledge is not evidenced in the general population, points out Trent MacKay, MD, MPH, the incoming chair of ARHP.

"Since we are the ones who know this material and are probably in the best position to explain it to others, I think we have a real obligation to speak directly to adolescents and to educate other adults who can influence adolescent behavior," MacKay says. "It is extremely important that we spread the word about the risks and the ways to prevent teen-age pregnancy, STDs, and HIV."

ARHP will serve as a resource to link regional and local reproductive health care providers with Congressional staff who will plan the health fairs, says Wayne Shields, president of ARHP.

For more details, contact: Johanna Chapin, Association of Reproductive Health Associates, 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Suite 350, Washing ton, DC 20037-1718. Telephone: (202) 466-3825. Fax: (202) 466-3826. E-mail: JBChapin@aol.com.