Family Planning is welcoming moves by the Taranaki District Health Board to make the emergency contraceptive pill free for youth between 12 and 24.
Pharmacies are being targeted to provide the morning after pill to young Taranaki females as part of the development of region's Taiohi (youth) health strategy.
What do you think of this plan? Have your say at the bottom of the page using your Facebook login
The strategy was accepted by a Taranaki District Health Board sub-committee yesterday and will go to the board in February for final approval.
While the morning after pill can already be obtained free through agencies like Family Planning it can cost up to $50 without a prescription.
Family Planning's Jackie Edmonds said "pharmacists can offer a broader hours than health services can so anything that increases that access is a positive thing".
"We also know that cost is a barrier for young people," she said.
One serious area of concern addressed by the sub-committee is sexual health and the statistics Taranaki records.
Teen pregnancy rates are high compared to the national average and abortions are double the national average.
The proportion of sexually transmitted infections cases reported in the 15 to 19-year-old age group has dropped over the past five years but increased for 20 to 24-year-olds.
Taranaki DHB's Sandra Boardman said: "It's quite traumatic for anybody to go through a termination and I think whatever we're able to put in place to reduce the need for terminations is a good thing."
Treating 'contraception like lollies'
Family First has criticised the Taranaki District Health Board for accepting the emergency contraception scheme when the evidence suggests it will do more harm than good.
"Sexually active teens need parental involvement - not emergency contraception - and the Health Board should not be handing out contraception like lollies," said Family First New Zealand director Bob McCoskrie.
"What we should be asking is, why are children as young as 12 sexually active, what messages are teens receiving about sexual involvement, and what role are the parents playing."
Family First says a recently released US study has found access to emergency contraception increases the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, while having no effect on abortion rates.
The results will 'speak for themselves'
District health board portfolio manager Jenny James said the teenage birth, termination of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates are higher than many other parts of the country.
Ways to combat these alarming statistics as set out in the strategy are providing the morning-after pill for free at pharmacies, reducing the costs of contraception at general practices and encouraging and educating youth about healthy sexuality.
James said the results will speak for themselves, predicting a reduction in abortion rates in young people, a lower teen pregnancy rate and fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases.
As part of the strategy a number of health and community agencies and organisations were approached, surveyed and involved in the changes being made.
Waves Trust chairman Garth Clarricoats raised concerns that a number of trusts and non-governmental agencies might not have been consulted.
The board's general manager of planning and funding, Sandra Boardman, said there was always room for more agencies to be involved, right from the start of the implementation process.
The youth strategy is an investment of up to $9 million and another key area being targeted is mental health.
The Prime Minister's youth mental health project is being introduced across agencies to provide earlier intervention and better help for young people with mental health issues.
On top of that the Taranaki youth strategy will reduce the wait time for mental health and addiction services, target youth suicide rates and provide better primary level counselling outside school counselling.