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Gisborne, the gonorrhoea capital

Gisborne has the highest rate of gonorrhoea in the country, four-and-a-half times over the estimated national figures, and young women aged between 15 and 19 years old are the most at risk.

It’s a wake-up call for the region, says Gisborne District Councillor Meredith Akuhata Brown who has taught sex education in schools for 13 years. The recently released statistics are from Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR).

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that, left untreated, can result in infertility in both women and men, says Family Planning national medical advisor Dr Christine Roke. Colloquially it is known as “the clap” and not all people affected have symptoms.

But the good news, is that gonorrhoea figures were at the lowest they have been in Gisborne since 2010. The figures were compiled from District Heath Boards for the Annual Surveillance Report on STIs for 2014 and only released recently.

They showed Gisborne also had the second-highest rate per capita in NZ of chlamydia, coming second to the Lakes District Health Board by the smallest of margins — one person.

Gisborne's negative trends around sexual healthMrs Akuhata Brown said she was disappointed Gisborne continued to have these negative trends around sexual health. Through her work with youth she was well aware of groups of young people who were sleeping around and sleeping with each other, which brought up associated issues of jealousy and other typical youth issues. There needed to be a space for youth to talk about sexual health in an open and healthy manner, she said.

“The decisions you make now will have long term consequences.” Mrs Akuhata Brown said all health providers needed to convey the same message. “Young people often get mixed messages around sexual health.

It had to extend beyond telling young people to always wear condoms, and how to put them on, to the broader context of healthy relationships, she said. This included knowing the partner you are sleeping with, their previous partners and the emotions, feelings and spiritual side tied up with having an intimate relationship.

Learning about sex 'hit and miss'Mrs Akuhata Brown said it was “hit and miss” with young Gisborne people about what they learned in the lead-up to puberty at primary school. There was a breakdown, with some teenagers entering high school knowing very little about sex education.

Her message was one of abstinence., not based on any religious grounds but simply because it was about young people making good decisions from good information about their own bodies, she said. Mrs Akuhata Brown acknowledged that young people would experiment but questioned whether they had the right tools to navigate the emotions and feelings that came with that.

“We need youth voices and youth leadership to talk to these statistics as well, rather than a lot of adults discussing the behaviour of young people. We have to be aware that media, internet access and the pornography industry is something we are tackling and fighting against as well.”

Last week Gisborne was also named as the city in New Zealand where the population spent the most amount of time online to look at porn.

“I am frustrated that Gisborne is in the media for such negative things.”

The Gisborne Family Planning clinic on Childers Road provides free condoms at reception and free sexual health checks for all people aged under 22 years old.

ESR data showed of those aged between 15 and 29 years old, the highest gonorrhoea rate was in the Maori and Pacific ethnic groups. Maori females aged 15–19 years reported the highest estimated gonorrhoea rate by age group and sex, more than three times the national estimate.

Gisborne has high rates of chlamydia tooSince 2010 the Lakes DHB, which encompasses Rotorua, Taupo and surrounding areas, and Tairawhiti DHB have consistently had the highest chlamydia rates. Other findings included that more than twice the number of laboratory-diagnosed cases of chlamydia were in females than in males in 2014.

Chlamydia is most commonly diagnosed in females in the 15–19 year age group and in males in the 20–24 year age group. Chlamydia is predominantly diagnosed from cervical samples in women and urine samples in men. It can cause infertility in both men and women. Cases of gonorrhoea and chlamydia often happen at the same time.

Chlamydia was the most commonly reported STI in New Zealand in 2014 with an incidence rate of 629 per 100,000 population, a non-significant decrease from the 2013 rate of 637 per 100,000 population.

The Gisborne Family Planning clinic on Childers Road provides free condoms at reception and free sexual health checks for all people aged under 22 years old.