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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (November 9, 1997 - Marshall Islands Journal)--- The Marshall Islands may have a high birth rate, but there is some positive news on the population front.

The rate of teen pregnancy dropped more than 37 percent between 1991 and 1996, according to an analysis prepared by officials from Queen's Health Systems and the Ministry of Health.

It's an important development that shows "the message is getting out to young people," said Justina Langidrik, the Assistant Secretary for Primary Health Care at the Ministry.

The number of births by teenage mothers has dropped from 124 per 1,000 teens to just 78 at the end of 1996, according to Queen's official Mele Look and Bureau of Health and Statistics staff member Ibrahim Nasiru.

While the overall population rate also declined during the six year period, it only went down by 9.4 percent. After a big drop from 1991 to 1992 (from 131 to 117 births per 1,000 women), the overall birth rate has ranged from 118-122 per 1,000 since then.

Look credited Youth to Youth in Health and the Ministry's Family Planning program with stimulating the decline in teen births. "Youth To Youth in Health has been the primary, and almost exclusive, health education effort targeting the teen population," Look said. "Their work can be credited with a significant proportion of this dramatic decline."

She pointed out Youth to Youth in Health's promotion aimed at teens was able to achieve this success "through close collaboration with the Ministry of Health's Family Planning clinics."

The reasons why the Marshalls health education model has been so effective are not clear. But Look suggested that using Pacific Island culture, "particularly songs and theater, is an important component of the success factor."

Langidrik said that she sees a lot of teenage boys coming to Youth To Youth in Health for condoms and other services.

Nevertheless, there is a great need "given the still high population rate" for Ministry and youth health staff to get out in the community. "How can we make our services more available at the community level? We need to go out more," Langidrik said, "instead of waiting for people to come to us."

She also encouraged parents of teenagers and young adults to help the Ministry by pushing their children to use preventive health services.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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