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Sexually transmitted diseases in schools

MIRANDA LA ROSE Thursday, February 16 2017

OVER 300 children of school age have been infected with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) including HIV, gonorrhoea and syphilis between 2012 and 2015. In 2016, five primary school children were diagnosed with HIV, Health Ministry and Education Ministry officials stated yesterday at a sitting of the Joint Select Committee inquiring into the prevalence of STDs among school children.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Richard Madray said the last available statistics was based on a survey conducted in 2011. The Pan American Health Organisation has given approval for another survey to be conducted which will start in March, he said. Meanwhile, Guidance Officer within the Education Ministry Darlene Smith said five children diagnosed with HIV within the school system are two boys - eight and 11 years, and three female - seven, nine and ten years old.

“They will remain in the system unless their health factors should warrant that they should be removed,” Smith said noting that the ministry believes in inclusive education and they should be treated in the same manner as other students. She did not say how the children contracted HIV and noted that their cases were confidential.

Questioned further, she said in the past, she worked with a student who at nine years had contracted the HIV and which mutated to full blown AIDS.

That student contracted the HIV due to incest. She has survived and is now an adult. On whether the school must get permission from parents to have a child medically examined for abuse, Smith said that the Education Act provides for the school’s principal to be loco parentis (in place of a parent) who will inform the parents and police.

It was more critical for the school to have the child medically examined, she said, “if the parent is the perpetrator of the incest, or abuse.” On cases put together by the Queen’s Park Counselling Centre (QPCC) which has branches across Trinidad, Specialist Medical Officer Dr Aruna Divakaruni reported that QPCC and its branches recorded 332 cases of STDs between 2012 and 2015. Of the STDs, 38 were HIV, 85 were syphilis, and 199, gonorrhoea.

The teenagers’ partners are older, she said, noting that “Most of the time they are abused by stepfathers, brothers, cousins or somebody like that.” On condom availability and sexual activity, Divakaruna said that in 2015, some 2,255 teenagers between 15 and 19 years presented themselves for condoms at QPCC, in 2014, a total of 2,503, and in 2013 a total of 2,492. The teenagers do not come school uniform, but she assumed they were school children.

Director, Medical Research Foundation of TT, Dr Jeffrey Edwards noted that the STIs from among the teenage population are presented in an advanced stage of infection. “Most teenagers do not come through the school system.

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