November 23 — 12:00 am, 2006

Broaden program to make condoms available in all District high schools

To the editors:

Would you believe that a life-saving public health effort that began as a pilot program in nine city high schools back in the early 1990s hasn’t been scaled up since?

We know Philadelphia’s pioneering high school condom availability program, known as Policy 123, works. The research shows that condoms don’t condone or increase sexual activity but do protect those kids who are already engaging in high-risk behaviors from HIV, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The school system has failed to guarantee all students a fair chance to protect themselves from HIV by refusing to expand the program to all public high schools. Currently, fewer than 25 percent of students can access condoms in their high schools.

Condoms are a highly effective tool to prevent HIV and most other STIs, and Philadelphia exhibits some of the highest rates of these infections in the country. For young African-American women in particular, HIV has become the leading cause of death.

While rates of condom use among young people went up for most of the 1990s, recent data suggest that the trend is leveling off. One step we can take to continue increasing condom use among youth is to ensure their accessibility.

In response to alarming rates of HIV among youth in the city, the Philadelphia School District in 1991 took a bold public health step and introduced condoms in nine high schools. They must follow through with the policy and allow condom distribution in all the high schools.

ACT UP Philadelphia’s “condoms in schools” campaign is looking for interested, passionate students and parents to stand up and advocate for the right to condom access for all high school students, not just a select few. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/wewantcondoms or contact ACT-UP Philadelphia at wewantcondoms@yahoo.com or 215-386-1981.

-Leah M. Hilsey
The writer is an MSW intern with Philadelphia FIGHT.

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