We have seen the publication of the Government’s White Paper, ‘Our Health, Our Care, Our Say’, proposing better prevention, earlier intervention and improved access to community services. Sexual Health and access to GUM clinics has been cited too, as one of the Government’s six health priorities under the NHS operating framework for 2006/2007.
In January the High Court made its long awaited judgement in the case of Sue Axon, the Manchester mother who challenged the law allowing under 16s confidential sexual health advice. The court, to the relief of many, rejected a review of the guidelines which stated abortion did not need parental consent, reinstating the principle that clinicians should respect girls’ confidentiality.
Finally, we heard that VAT on condoms and contraceptives has been reduced after much lobbying from various interest groups.
These developments have all occurred against a background of concern over NHS financial deficits and growing fears about de-investment in sexual health, and in particular community based resources. Meanwhile, we have also seen the U.S. State of South Dakota passing legislation aimed at banning abortion. Proposals to ban abortion in other States are also planned. As someone once said: “When America sneezes, Britain catches cold.” The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, speaking on BBC Radio 4 (March 11th, 2006), welcomed the moves in America, stating that in principle, abortion is the: “killing of human life; whether it is in the 1st week, 4th week or 24th week.”
I wonder how many of you saw the moving accounts from the actor, James Nesbitt, of how HIV/AIDS was affecting the young people of Africa? (Independent, March 11th 2006). During his trip, Nesbitt visited The City of Hope Community School in Zambia, where more than half the 700 children are orphaned due to the AIDS epidemic. The children there are encouraged to climb a huge, old oak tree, called the ‘Vision Tree’, where they can sit alone and think, whilst looking out over the fields of maize and vegetables.
Nesbitt’s reporting reminds us of two important facts. Firstly how important it is to take time out to reflect, in spite of the enormity of the challenges which confront us all. Secondly, and just as importantly, it reminds us of the global sexual health crisis and our own wider responsibilities.