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More to doc rights for teens

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

More to doc rights for teens

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IT ISN’T JUST reproductive issues.
There is a range of health problems that adolescents and young adults face, which should be part of the national discourse.
These statements have come from Dr Asha Pemberton-Gaskin, adolescent medicine specialist (teen and young adult) and paediatrician, on the heels of Minister of Health Donville Inniss’ suggestions that teens should access medical care without a parent’s consent.
“The discussion seems to be focusing on reproductive issues on teens, but there are far more reasons that young people may seek health care, such as depression, substance abuse, thoughts of suicide, anxiety, sexual or physical abuse, violence, bullying and mental health issues,” she said.
“This will always be an issue that will pursue a lot of passions, but this is one issue that should be discussed. Because of the totality of it, the discourse must be done.”
While she notes that the issue of young people’s access to health care has triggered heated debate among parents and people in the local medical fraternity, she takes the position that the numerous health issues facing adolescents should not be omitted from the discussion.
“There are so many reasons why a teenager may seek medical advice apart from a parent, for instance, if they are depressed, if they’re partaking in substance abuse, if they’re being abused by a parent or step-parent.
“Adolescence is a unique stage of development as children transition into adulthood and sometimes they make decisions that can affect their current and future health. Therefore health care delivery to adolescents has to be cognizant of the current social climate of the community so that we are treating them.”
Research shows that teenagers may feel comfortable discussing some health issues with a doctor alone at first, but then the doctor tries to actively engage the family.
“The provision of adolescent health care involves engaging and developing a rapport with a young person and that process does require assuring them confidentiality within legal ramifications,” Pemberton-Gaskin stated.
“Having said that, many health specialists in the field continue to support family involvement and cohesion.”
In the WEEKEND NATION, Dr Carlos Chase, president of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, argued that Barbados is “simply following what other nations are doing” in an effort to push forward the legislation on minors’ access to health care.
 However, in the United States, the law requires the consent of a parent before medical care can be provided to a minor (anyone under 18 years of age). But different states there have numerous exceptions to that law, including contraceptive care, pregnancy-related care, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), examination and treatment related to sexual assault, mental health, and drug or alcohol abuse.
While Pemberton-Gaskin admits that adolescent medicine is a unique specialty, she acknowledges that youths in Barbados are facing pressing health concerns. Barbados has the highest rate of infection for HIV/AIDS in the 15-19 age group.
“What we know is that major causes of death and disability are diseases that affect young people,” she said.
“Unsafe sexual behaviour, suicide, homicide, HIV/AIDS and mental health issues are some of the major causes of morbidity in health.”
Pemberton-Gaskin believes that adolescent health should be part of the total family framework.
“Seeing a young person on their own does not preclude family involvement,” Pemberton-Gaskin said. “We always encourage family interaction and we do not try to separate that.
“Ideally, we still want as much family cohesion and involvement as possible because we want young people to receive the optimal physical and mental health care that they require to maximize their potential.”