World Population Awareness Week concluded Friday as Portland State University hosted a lecture on global situations pertaining to sexual activity and population trends that have some worried about overpopulation on earth.
The Population Institute founded the world Population Awareness Week in 1985 to heighten awareness of the impact that a rapidly growing human population has on the health of the earth and its inhabitants, and to inform people of the urgent need for action in order to change current trends. The theme of this year’s awareness week was “Population and the Next Generation: Youth and Adolescents.” Last year, the awareness week focused on “Population and the Urban Future.”
This year’s theme was addressed by Dr. Sharon Stash, program officer at the Gates Foundation and an epidemiologist with more than 15 years experience in international health. She headlined the event, held in Smith Memorial Student Union on Friday evening, and discussed the issues of HIV/AIDS epidemics, teen-age pregnancies and gender inequities in developing countries with an audience of about 15 people.
Stash has worked throughout southeast Asia and Africa to improve reproductive-health resources, and provided those in attendance with a presentation on conditions in Baluchistan, a region occupying most of southern Pakistan that serves as a major crossroads between the wealth of the Middle East and eastern Asia. Photos of the landscape revealed how desolate and barren the region is, which ties into the reasons why there are reproduction-related problems in the area.
Some suggest the problems are due to lack of proper education and others blame poverty and lack of resources on the escalation of teen pregnancies. Stash reported women often have five to six children by the age of 25 in developing countries, and by 2005, half of all people infected by HIV in these areas of the world will be women age 25 or younger.
The reason that the focus this year was on adolescents is because that current generation is the largest ever in the history of the world and therefore has researchers’ attention. Presently, the 10- to 24-year-old group makes up 30 percent of the population of developing countries.
Another statistic that has researchers worried is that one out of every two 15-year-olds in South Africa is expected to have HIV by the age of 25.
“Many adolescents are growing to sexual maturity in silence, without proper guidance by parents who are either too embarrassed or ill-informed to effectively educate their children,” Stash said. “This is too bad, because most youths prefer to learn from their parents. My hope is that soon a youthful population will exist that wants positive change and will start to make a difference.”
Stash described how adolescent females in southeast Asia are often scolded and turned away when they seek out health services, and many don’t seek help out of fear of being seen. That lack of freedom, combined with the conditions of poverty that are pervasive throughout developing societies, often keeps youth from making the choices they want to.
Augmenting Stash’s speech was Grayson Crosby, an education program coordinator with the Columbia/Willamette branch of Planned Parenthood. Crosby touched more on local problems than of those overseas, but compared the mentality of western Europe to that of the U.S., saying that their approach to sexual education is far more realistic than here in the States.
Crosby spoke disapprovingly of American moral values, saying that by preaching abstinence until marriage to our youth, we are forcing them to sneak around and make poor decisions for themselves. Crosby suggested that teaching realistic solutions rather than preaching idealism would be more effective in controlling sex-related problems.
“Teens are getting too many mixed messages, and that is resulting in an increase of risk-taking behaviors,” Crosby said. “Another problem in America is that adolescents are seen as problems rather than assets, which reduces their desire to care.”
Crosby contrasted the number of teen pregnancies in the U.S. to Europe, saying they are nine times less in the Netherlands, five times less in Germany and four times less in France. But whether or not those numbers were in proportion to populations was not clear.
Planned Parenthood is trying to be recognized as a place not only where contraceptives and other birth control methods can be acquired, but also as a receptive source for giving advice and free counseling.
Both speakers wrapped up the lecture by fielding questions from the audience. One man asked why the Bush administration reneged on a proposal to send $34 million to the United Nations Population Fund, which was going to use that money in combating world population problems. There was no available answer for that inquiry. Another question involved why HIV testing is not used more across the world. The reason given was that it is not only too expensive to do for free but is also seen by some as pointless because of the lack of resources available to those who test positive.
Stash spoke of the realities of health problems, saying that “they may occur more in poor areas and therefore seem less relevant to developed countries, but the AIDS problem is so large globally that it will eventually come home to the U.S. economically.”
For more information related to the issues of this lecture, visit these Web sites: www.wecandobetter.org, www.populationinstitute.org, and www.gatesfoundation.org.