McDuffie County's teen pregnancy rate continued to decline in 2002, according to numbers released last month by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The 2002 rate of 43.2 pregnancies per 1,000 girls ages 10-19 was down from 2001's rate of 50.5, as well as being an eight-year low overall.
Chief Spokesperson for the East Central Health District Emmitt Walker said that the dwindling number of teen pregnancies in McDuffie County is a positive sign.
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"We are delighted that the numbers are down," he said. "We would like, at some point, to see teenage pregnancy go down to a point where we don't see it at all. But realistically, that won't happen."
But Mr. Walker said that state and local public health agencies are working hard to ensure that the number continues to fall and stays as low as possible.
"The mere fact that the numbers are dwindling, and they seem to be dwindling year-to-year, lets us know that along with the abstinence program and some other programs we have here at public health -- one being the HIV awareness program, where someone goes in and talks not only about the prevalence of HIV but STDs in general -- that all of that combined with the abstinence program is working in lowering teenage pregnancy. We are delighted, and we hope to see those numbers go down even further," he said.
While teen pregnancies in the 15-17 range increased slightly in 2002 -- from 29 total pregnancies and a rate of 55 in 2001 to 31 total pregnancies and a rate of 58.1 a year later -- they decreased in both the 10-14 and 18-19 groups. In fact, there were zero reported pregnancies of girls ages 10-14 in 2002. Six were reported in 2001, which made the rate 6.9. African-American teen pregnancies also saw a significant drop in 2002, from a rate of 71.6 in 2001 to 57.6 in 2002, which is an eight-year low.
McDuffie County finished right in the middle of the pack when comparing its teen pregnancy rate with Columbia, Richmond, Warren, Glascock, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Wilkes counties.
While the strides made over the course of several years are encouraging to Partners for Success Executive Director Mary Ann Kotras, she said that there's still plenty of work that needs to be done.
"Our rates are going down, and we're happy about that, but they're not going down as much as we would like," she said. "To me, even if there's one teen pregnancy, that's one too many."
Dr. Kotras said that despite the almost yearly decline in numbers, when the 2003 report is released later this year, it may show an increase.
"Wait until you get to 2003," she said, citing at least one case of a 14-year-old who gave birth to a child last year.
In the meantime, she said Partners for Success will continue to try and keep numbers down, whether it's preventing pregnancies from occurring in the first place or educating teen mothers so they don't have a repeat pregnancy.
"We do a lot of intensive home visitation," said Dr. Kotras. "We're probably working with 60-plus families, where we're going into the homes, talking to them about positive parenting, goal setting, decision making, setting priorities, and even getting them back into school."