Photo by Alexa Garcia-Ditta
Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of San Antonio Metro Health, opens Wednesday's data presentation.
The teen birth rate in Bexar County continues to decline, new data released by San Antonio Metro Health and Project Worth show, but our rate is still higher than the national average.
In 2013, the Bexar County birth rate declined to 40.1 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19, totaling to 2,590 births for the year. Since 2010, the teen birth rate has dropped by 21 percent, but is still 51 percent higher than the national rate of 26.6.
"The progress we have made is substantial," said San Antonio Metropolitan Health District director Dr. Thomas Schlenker, highlighting that the teen birth rate has declined by 42 percent in the last decade. "That translates into millions of dollars of savings in health care costs, but even more important than that it translates into young men and women who have greater opportunity because they didn't have children before they were prepared to raise them and that affects the entire community."
The estimated cost of teen childbearing in Bexar County equates to about $58 million in taxpayer dollars.
Repeat teen births accounted for 20 percent of all 2013 teen births, which is a 2 percent decline from 2010, and 69 percent of the total number occurred among females ages 18 to 19.
Local public health officials attribute the decline to the city's collaborative approach to reducing the teen pregnancy and birth rates in Bexar County.
Mario Martinez with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District said the coalescence of evidence-based sex education in schools, outreach and awareness and clinical services, including screenings and a wide range of birth control methods, has contributed to the rapid decline in teen pregnancy and birth rates in the recent years.
"We know that (teens) are making good decisions, and the other (reason) is also looking at preventing a pregnancy, so teens not having sex and deciding not to have sex until they're much older," Martinez said. "Those teens that are sexually active are using contraceptives, and not just contraceptives like the birth control pill, but the more effective types of contraceptives that will help them focus more on their education and setting goals for the future."
This year, SA Metro Health and its program Project WORTH started making long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, like the implant and injection, available at no cost to teenagers
. As we reported a few weeks ago, more than 250 teens have received services since April, and while the 2013 teen birth rate data doesn't reflect the impact of these more effective and hassle-free birth control methods, Martinez predicts future numbers will show the benefits.
"(The 2013 data) is prior to us implementing more of the clinical services, and even the expansive role of education," he said. "So you can imagine that in the next few years, with the expansion of these services and programs, that we will see that continued progress in our community.
As part of the SA2020 strategic planning initiative, the San Antonio Teen Pregnancy Prevention Collaborative shattered its goal of reducing the teen pregnancy rate by 15 percent three years ago and has set a new goal of reducing it by 25 percent by 2020.
San Antonio's teen pregnancy prevention strategies are partially funded by federal dollars drawn down from the Medicaid 1115 waiver. In September, City Council approved
another year's worth of funding for the programs, despite the objections from North Side council members District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher and District 9 Councilman Joe Krier.
Lexi Hazlett, a 17-year-old student at Incarnate Word Academy, volunteers with Project WORTH and works with her peers, educating them on the benefits of safe sex as well as the risks that come with getting pregnant at a young age.
"Our goal is to get teens to focus on themselves and their futures," she said. "By getting pregnant, you won't have the same opportunities as you would if you didn't."