On 13 January 2010, the European Commission hosted a meeting of the Sexual Health Forum. The Forum marks a step towards the formation of a EU strategy on sexual health for young people. The overall aim of the Forum is to raise knowledge and awareness of the importance of sexual health and well-being for the overall health status of current and future generation.
According to Chair Robert Madelin (Director General, DG SANCO), discussions at the Forum were set against a background of increasing realisation of the importance of sexual health and reproductive rights across Europe. Country by country the issue is progressing, even in those regions with a traditionally conservative legal framework.
The Forum gathered representatives from the Member States, the World Health Organisation, NGOs and academic institutes. The European Commission emphasised the added value of combining EU discussions with national actions. The Commission also explained that the focus on young people in the Forum is a result of the strong mandate from young people to work on this issue. The new Communication from 2009 on HIV/AIDS indicates that the new youth focus does not replace work in other areas.
The prospects for future work on this issue require sustained and increased funding. The Commission announced a permanent secretariat for the Forum to increase the frequency of meetings and the work carried out between. Robert Madelin said that a goal of the Forum should be to identify channels to effectively communicate messages to improve sexual health. Furthemore, the Forum needs to build links with those policy-makers that have territorial roots with vulnerable communities. The next Forum, to be held in the autumn will have a specific policy-making dimension.
Discussions at the Forum addressed specific medical topics such as the incidence of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) in young people, the link between alcohol and teenage pregnancies, sexuality education in schools, and the issues that need to form the basis of the European strategy.
Young people are a particularly vulnerable group in terms of their sexuality and personal development. There is a need to provide easily accesible sexuality education through both formal and non-formal channels, youth-friendly sexual health services and access to contraception. The Forum discussions also emphasised the need for a focus on well-being- with speakers reminding participants that sex is good for an individual’s health and has the possibility to enhance the quality of life. Key skills for young people are a must in order to empower them to make the choices that are right for them, and the provision of information, education and services provides the right context in which to make these choices. Many speakers also underlined the need for a gendered approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The representative from the World Health Organisation argued that a continuing lack of a definition and a lack of comparable data represent barriers to progress on this issue. The WHO sees work by the European Commission on this topic as an opportunity for the two bodies to join forces to promote sexual health and well-being.
The WHO will be organising an even in cooperation with the Spanish government in October on sexual and reproductive health and rights to address some of the above-mentioned issues. Further details will be made available at a later date.
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