In 2001 I released the Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, which indicated the overall direction the Government wished to take to achieve positive and improved sexual and reproductive health for all New Zealanders. In this second phase of the strategy, we are focusing on District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations and the role they can play in improving the sexual and reproductive health of their communities.
We know New Zealanders can be reticent about discussing sexual health issues. Most of us take for granted that we will be sexually active and be able to choose if and when we will have children.
This is the ideal, but it is not the reality for many New Zealanders. Among young New Zealanders, and rangatahi Maori particularly, unplanned pregnancies, abortion and sexually transmitted infections are becoming more common – with potential long-term consequences for their health and their fertility.
We have to do better in the area of contraception. Research tells us that up to 60 percent of pregnancies in New Zealand may be unplanned. That means some babies do not have an optimal start to life. And babies born to very young women and into families that are already finding it hard to cope are not having the best start to their lives either. Increasing abortions is not the best solution.
New Zealand also has high rates of sexually transmitted infections. Part of the problem is that infections like chlamydia often have no symptoms. That means they can be passed on unwittingly. Untreated, chlamydia can have long-term effects. It can be transmitted from mother to newborn child; it can cause infertility; and it can make people more susceptible to HIV infection.
These issues are of concern to us all, as individuals, as family and whanau members, and as a community. Sexual and reproductive health is an area where major inequalities exist between Maori and non-Maori.
We know many of the influences on our sexual and reproductive health lie outside the health sector. However, we in the health sector have the opportunity and the responsibility – particularly in respect of young people–– to make sure they have ready access to advice and care on sexual health matters.
At the same time we need to encourage all people to take responsibility for contraception and to make sexual and reproductive health checkups a normal part of their health care routines. This is one area where new Primary Health Organisations can take a lead.
The reference groups who helped compile this resource book proposed a goal:
A society where individuals have the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy their sexuality, to choose when or if to have children, and to keep themselves safe from harm.
This is a society I want to be a part of.
Hon Annette King
MINISTER OF HEALTH