Teen birth rate declines in Md.; But pace of gonorrhea infection is among highest in country


WASHINGTON - Maryland teen girls have one of the highest rates of gonorrhea infection in the nation and are more likely than their counterparts elsewhere to be unmarried mothers, according to a recently released report.

Those statistics overshadowed the good news in the report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which said that Maryland teen birth rates fell faster than the national average from 1991 to 1996.

The report said teen births fell from 54 births per 1,000 females in 1991 to 46 per 1,000 in 1996, a drop of 15 percent. Nationally, the teen birth rate fell 12 percent in the same period, from 62 births per 1,000 females to 54.

"We're very proud to be part of that decline. We worked very hard at that," said Dr. Russell Moy, director of the Maryland Office of Maternal Health and Family.

Moy said there was no one factor that brought on the decline in teen births. He said strategies to fight teen births in the state included years of public and private efforts that range from "family planning to teen counseling and education to media campaigns."

And Moy said the increase in gonorrhea rates cannot be tackled by focusing on teens alone. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Baltimore has the highest rates of gonorrhea and syphilis in the country.

1,313 cases of gonorrhea

The Casey report said Maryland had 1,313 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 females between the ages of 15 to 19, almost twice the national rate of 699 cases per 100,000. Maryland's rate was fifth-highest among the states.

In addition, the report found that 90 percent of Maryland teen moms were likely to be unmarried compared to 76 percent of teen moms nationally.

Moy said the state's high gonorrhea rate is "such a large problem that it's going to take multiple strategies to solve it."

Those strategies include a new state law that increases testing for sexually transmitted diseases in pregnant women and an additional $1.4 million in funding for STD elimination efforts in the past year, Moy said.

Despite the negative news, state and private health officials said they were pleased to see the decline in teen birth rates for the state. Many credited a combination of teen pregnancy reduction methods, including education, changes in attitudes and media campaigns.

"We're doing a lot, but we're not doing everything that needs to be done. If we have one teen-age pregnancy under age 18 it will be too many for me," said Roberta Geidener-Antoniotto, president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.

"It's a combination of teaching kids and teaching parents and providing access to contraceptives," Geidener-Antoniotto said.

The Casey report, "When Teens Have Sex: Issues and Trends," is a state-by-state and national analysis of recent data on teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, birth rates and teen sexual activity. The study, which is a special report of the foundation's annual KidsCount, also outlines programs to prevent teen pregnancy.

'Reason to be hopeful'

The report also found that the pregnancy rate nationally for 15- to 19-year-olds fell 14 percent, from 117 pregnancies per 1,000 females in 1990 to 101 in 1995. That rate is different from the teen birth rate.

While the pregnancy rate is at its lowest level since 1975, the U.S. rate is still twice as high as any other industrialized country's rate. Four out of 10 females in the United States become pregnant before age 20, according to the study.

"The improvement trend is reason to be hopeful," said Casey Foundation President Douglas W. Nelson. "We can make changes and make a real assault on the problem, but we're not there yet."

The Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.

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