London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Brent 1970

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Brent]

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are infected by girls and women in this country. This is especially the case with the West Indian community.
Although the venereal disease rate amongst immigrants has been falling in recent years the total rate in our
country has gone on rising steadily and this increase has been made by people born in this country.
As mentioned earlier, easily available oral contraceptives account for an ever increasing amount of
promiscuity among the young. Also television programmes, advertising, theatre and films capitalise on sexual
tolerance and liberty to such an extent that casual intercourse is now more widely thought to be a norm.
Although people are coming forward in growing numbers for treatment, it certainly seems that the main
problem we are facing today is the lack of education amongst the young. Sex education has, over the years,
certainly improved but young people appear to have very little knowledge of such details as the signs and
symptoms of gonorrhoea or syphilis. It would therefore seem that the only future weapon we have against
spread of venereal disease is to increase education on this subject not only in schools and colleges but in
the mass media as well.
The subject of venereal disease was included in the health education programme for schools. Mostly
it formed part of a talk or discussion on sex education given or conducted by health visitors, and occasionally
by school doctors. Only 3 talks were devoted solely to the subject. Five schools were involved, including
Woodfield School for the Educationally Sub-Normal. Children were in the older age range approaching
school leaving time. Numbers attending varied considerably from the 150 audience at a film show to the more
intimate, and presumably more effective, discussion groups comprising mostly about 10 pupils.
Precise information on the number of occasions when venereal disease was brought up during
talks, discussion groups and question-and-answer periods involving sex education generally is not available
but the staff concerned say that this subject was raised about 50 times.
Venereal disease has so far played a minor role in the health education programme. However, there
now appears to be an urgent need for revision as the steeply rising notifications indicate much lack of awareness
of the prevalence of this group of diseases. It will not be easy to overcome a certain amount of
resistance likely to be shown by some head teachers. Venereal disease is bound to arouse negative
emotional responses in those for whom this "dirty" subject evokes one of their own childhood taboos. However
it is only a comparatively few years ago that inclusion of the subject of sex education in any health
education programme in schools was generally unpopular, yet it now forms an accepted part of the biology
curriculum where it is not otherwise introduced as a separate subject dealt with by school doctor or health

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