Clarification leads to same criticism

First published: April 26, 2009

It was Benjamin Disraeli, the famous British parliamentarian, who said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics”.

The previous column on teenage pregnancies in Northumberland published two weeks ago contained some confusing numbers provided by the minutes of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit that deserve a clarification.

First, it must be made clear that the health unit takes full responsibility for the problem, since it did not provide context in its minutes. Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, Medical Officer of Health, according to Communications Officer Chandra Tremblay, normally checks these prior to distribution. That did not happen this time. All the people involved in this recognize our humanity and sometimes things happen. The vital point is to make it right.

To begin, the pregnancy rate of young women in Northumberland is pretty close to the rest of Ontario, not three times greater as published. This takes into account all young women who give birth, stillbirths and abortions.

What is significant is that of the 52 births that took place in Northumberland County in 2007, one in 10 women were between 15 to 19- years old. That is an important number because this group of women tends to need more services than older, more mature women. The babies tend to have low birth weights and preterm delivery is high. They often don’t visit a doctor or health practioners during the first trimester, which is an important time for both the mother and the unborn baby. Young mothers also smoke and consume alcohol, along with other bad habits that can be harmful to babies. All this has an effect, not just on the baby, but also on the entire health and social services system.

So, while the numbers were a bit confusing, the point is the same as it was last time: county councillors need to be on top of this issue. The health unit recognizes this. If the current situation in Northumberland is going to be addressed properly, then more staff and an increasing number of programs are necessary.

As was said previously, the cultural environment appears to be promoting young women to have babies by glamorizing it through movies and celebrity magazines. Here is where more public education and debate is so crucial.

Where are the older women and mothers of these young women when it comes to talking about responsible sexual behaviour? Just like the politicians, parents, women’s organizations, and the community at large must engage in meaningful discussion. Nobody wants to talk openly or publicly about the implications of a growing number of young women giving birth.

This is an issue of social justice. Often these young women face poverty, discrimination and isolation. They tax our social programs and stress families. More than anything else, these young women face incredible hardship on many levels.

Thanks to Ms. Tremblay for correcting the health unit’s numbers and for providing further context. And, an additional note of appreciation goes to the staff for providing some depth.

As for politicians and the community, the message is the same: teen pregnancy is an issue that cannot be hidden, even in a mountain of statistics.

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