January 2, 2013
Students at 22 high schools in the Philadelphia school district will return from winter break to find plastic condom dispensers in their student health offices. The condoms are free and available to all students; however, nurses will not be allowed to distribute condoms to teenagers whose parents have opted them out of the program. According to Dr. Donald F. Schwarz, Philadelphia's health commissioner and deputy mayor for health and opportunity, the schools chosen for this program have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among students. Schwarz and the school district sent letters to the parents, explaining that if they did not want their children to participate, they should call or send a letter to their school's principal. Principals will then make that list available to the nurses. Students who are on the opt-out list will not be able to get condoms from the dispensers.
In 2010, Philadelphia saw a nearly 50-percent increase in gonorrhea and chlamydia cases among young people, providing the impetus for this program. Schwarz declares that one out of four people infected with HIV in Philadelphia is between the ages of 13 and 24, and CDC warned in a report that condom rates were decreasing among Philadelphia's youth. In response, Philadelphia launched a website called takecontrolphilly.org in April 2011, featuring sexual health information for teens and parents, as well as a mail-order option for ordering condoms. Schwarz declared that "For the first time in four years, we saw a decline in STIs among adolescents by 5 to 6 percent."
The program is not without controversy, with some members of the same family expressing opposing views on teens and condoms. Schwarz emphasizes that there is no evidence that making condoms available increases the rate of sexual behavior among young people. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter strongly agrees with this high school initiative. CDC recommends making condoms accessible to sexually active youth, and has concluded that condom distribution programs are effective in increasing condom use, delaying the start of sexual activity, and reducing STDs in youth.