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Sex education a rural front-line fix.

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Friday 10 March 2006

Sex education a rural front-line fix

Better access to sex education is just as critical as pregnancy counselling if unintended pregnancies are to be avoided in the first place, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) warned today.

“The Government’s new Medicare item for pregnancy support counselling by GPs and other health professionals will provide an additional avenue of assistance for some women when it comes to unintended pregnancies” RDAA President, Dr Ross Maxwell, said.

“But this counselling clearly is a case of taking action only after the fact. Sex education must be just as easy to access and just as heavily promoted, particularly in rural areas, if we are to avoid more unintended pregnancies before conception even occurs.

“There is a higher rate of teenage pregnancies in the bush due to factors including higher alcohol use and decreased access to contraception.

“Many rural teenagers are often fearful their parents may find out they have purchased contraception, given their perception that ‘news travels fast’ in small towns. There are also difficulties with rural teenagers being able to afford contraception and the morning-after pill, particularly when they don’t want to go to their parents for the cash to pay for it.

“Consequently, there is a critical need for the better promotion of, and access to, education and counselling for young rural women on safe sex practices and where they can obtain contraception confidentially.

“While the new Medicare item for pregnancy counselling is welcomed, RDAA is concerned that only GPs approved by the General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaboration (GPMHSC), and other health professionals on referral, will be allowed to provide the service.

“Rural and remote doctors already provide the bulk of front-line care for those seeking mental health counselling or pregnancy care in the bush.

“To restrict the Medicare item only to the patients of GPs who are approved by the GPMHSC will deny access to this service in rural towns where the doctors have elected not to

participate in the GPMHSC program. This will add to the relative disadvantage of women in these communities, and is particularly problematic given the very low number of GPs across both metropolitan and rural Australia who are participating in the program.

“And given that women seeking information on unintended pregnancy are not necessarily also seeking mental health counselling, restricting access to GPMHSC-approved GPs and other health professionals only is missing the point.

“We urge the Federal Government to make this item available to the patients of all GPs, so rural women with unintended pregnancies can seek the face-to-face counselling or unbiased information they need without having to travel for hours and wait days for it.”

RDAA President, Dr Ross Maxwell, is available for interview on tel: (07) 4662 2433 bh or 0418 727 255. Media contact: Patrick Daley on tel: (02) 6273 9303 bh or 0408 004 890.