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Brazzil - Behavior - July 2004

Brazil: Sex, Pills and Pregnancy

The Brazilian government wished to see contraceptives more
easily available to poor Brazilians. Earlier this year, Brazil's Ministry
of Health decided to expand the free distribution of condoms, birth
control pills, IUD's, and morning-after pills. Fourteen-year-old
and older students will get more than 200,000 condoms.

Irene Lôbo


Picture The sex lives of Brazilian youth were researched for the first time by Unesco in a report released as Youth and Sexuality. Last weekend the subject was discussed at the 12th Youth Conference (12º Encontro Nacional de Adolescentes - ENA) which took place in Natal, capital of Rio Grande do Norte, in Brazil's northeast region.

The Unesco study interviewed 16,000 Brazilian students between the ages of 10 and 24, along with teachers. It found that sex is a youth priority.

According to the study, the average age of sexual initiation for boys is 13.9 to 14.5 years of age. For girls it is between 15.2 and 16 years of age. Fully 70 percent of those interviewed said they had sex with only one partner.

There was a big geographical difference when it came to youth pregnancy. In Florianópolis, southern region, only 12.2 percent of the girls got pregnant; the lowest percentage in the country. The highest percentage was in Recife, northeast region, where it was 36.9 percent. However, 90 percent of the youth said they use contraceptives. The most popular contraceptive was the condom, followed by the pill.

As for abortion, 14 percent in Porto Alegre (southern region) were totally opposed to it. In Maceio (northeast region), that number rose to 31 percent.

Family Planning

The Brazilian government intends to reinforce its family planning policies by making more contraceptives available to poor women. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health decided to expand the free distribution of condoms, birth control pills, IUD's, and morning-after pills, among other methods.

According to Health Minister, Humberto Costa, women from the lowest social levels of the population don't have the same opportunities as middle and upper class women to determine the number of children they desire, for lack of information, inferior levels of education, and lack of awareness of the social problems caused by poor families with numerous offspring.

The Ministry of Health also reported that this year it will distribute 235,000 condoms to students between the ages of 14 and 19 in a total of 205 municipalities.

The students will be enrolled in a program, "Health and Prevention in Schools," and each will receive eight condoms per month. The program is being run in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Unesco.

The program began last year in the states of Acre, Paraná and São Paulo, where 15,000 students in 471 schools participated. This year, the program started in May in the states of Rio Grande do Norte and Paraiba.

Studies show that the average age youths in Brazil begin sexual activity is 14.5 for boys and 15.5 for girls. And the National Sexually Transmitted Disease/AIDS program has found that youths in the target age bracket have very high rates of sexually transmitted disease: around 49 percent of them.

It has also been found that AIDS and adolescent pregnancies are occurring at earlier ages. The objective of the program is to deal with these problems.

Thai Condoms

On the other hand, the Coordinator of the National STD/Aids Program, Alexander Grangeiro, disclosed June 24 that Brazil may import technology developed in Thailand to produce condoms.

"The condoms manufactured there are 40 times less expensive than the ones sold here," observed Grangeiro, after having participated in a meeting with representatives of the Thai government. "They are willing to share the know-how and transfer this technology for Brazil to obtain better results, when it installs a condom factory."

Thailand and Brazil are members of a seven-country group with plans to establish a technology exchange network for combating the HIV virus. China, India, Russia, and South Africa also belong to this group.

Representatives from these countries are currently engaged in a diagnosis of each country's potential. The partnership can help the group deal with new challenges in fighting the disease.

One such challenge will arise next year, when developing countries will adhere to a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement that sets rules for protecting intellectual property.

To comply with this agreement—known as Trips—these countries will patent the anti-retroviral drugs produced by their industries. The prices of these medications will tend to rise as a result.

This change disturbs representatives of international organisms. The director of the French Aids Research Agency, Michel Kazatchkine, is afraid that the price increase will decrease the number of people benefited by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Two years ago this fund, fed by the developing countries, established a war chest of US$ 3 billion.

"Over half this money is used for the treatment of Aids in African countries," according to Kazatchkine, one of the members of the Global Fund's management committee. "The Fund currently makes it possible to treat 1.3 million people. This in places where, until recently, only the high-income population had access to medications."

Youth Agent Program

Approximately 56 thousand adolescents who live in conditions of poverty and risk, far from school classrooms and close to criminal elements, are acquiring notions of citizenship and how to contribute to the communities in which they live.

This year the Ministry of Social Development and Hunger Alleviation's Youth Agent program has US$ 18.5 million (55 million reais) available for activities such as the distribution of monthly stipends of US$ 21.60 (65 reais) for each youngster and orientation courses in various areas.

According to the Ministry's National Secretary of Social Assistance, Márcia Lopes, the Youth Agent program represents one of the action strategies in states and municipalities, as far as youth policy is concerned.

"There is a clear political decision on the part of President Lula and Minister Patrus Ananias to invest in Brazilian youth," she points out, recalling that the chief result of the program "is that young people achieve higher self-esteem and recognition."

The program exists in all municipalities in which municipal social assistance departments present solicitations and develop local environmental, health, and education programs. The selection of the adolescents is done by the municipal social assistance departments, which form groups of 25 adolescents between 15 and 17 years old.

From the Secretary's perspective, the program unites important elements. First, because it guarantees that the young people remain in school and because it establishes a system of qualification in various fields of learning.

"Consequently, they participate in a course that lasts 300 hours during the year, preparing them to become leaders, monitors, and educational multipliers in the community."

The Youth Agent program has been under development for several years, and Minister Ananias's idea is to coordinate it with other programs, such as the Integral Family Care program, and to enlarge it, beginning next year.

Irene Lôbo works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.

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