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The "morning after" pill to prevent pregnancy could be made free to children as young as 12 next year.

Pharmacies are being targeted to provide the emergency contraceptive pill to Taranaki youth aged between 12 and 24 as part of the development of Taranaki's Taiohi (youth) health strategy.

The strategy was accepted by a Taranaki District Health Board sub-committee yesterday and will go to the board in February for final approval.

One serious area of concern addressed by the sub-committee is sexual health and the statistics Taranaki records.

Teen pregnancy rates are high compared to the national average and abortions are double the national average.

The proportion of sexually transmitted infections cases reported in the 15 to 19-year-old age group has dropped over the past five years but increased for 20 to 24-year-olds.

District health board portfolio manager Jenny James said the teenage birth, termination of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates are higher than many other parts of the country.

Ways to combat these alarming statistics as set out in the strategy are providing the morning-after pill for free at pharmacies, reducing the costs of contraception at general practices and encouraging and educating youth about healthy sexuality.

Ms James said the results will speak for themselves, predicting a reduction in abortion rates in young people, a lower teen pregnancy rate and fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

As part of the strategy a number of health and community agencies and organisations were approached, surveyed and involved in the changes being made.

Waves Trust chairman Garth Clarricoats raised concerns that a number of trusts and non-governmental agencies might not have been consulted.

The board's general manager of planning and funding, Sandra Boardman, said there was always room for more agencies to be involved, right from the start of the implementation process.

The youth strategy is an investment of up to $9 million and another key area being targeted is mental health.

The Prime Minister's youth mental health project is being introduced across agencies to provide earlier intervention and better help for young people with mental health issues.

On top of that the Taranaki youth strategy will reduce the wait time for mental health and addiction services, target youth suicide rates and provide better primary level counselling outside school counselling.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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