Evans is superintendent of Omaha Public Schools. Pour is director of the Douglas County Health Department.
Omaha has received much national recognition for its robust economy, excellent schools and thriving arts, music and museum scenes. With all the positive national exposure, it’s easy to lose sight of areas that still need improvement, specifically combating sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and teen pregnancy among our most vulnerable populations.
Douglas County STD rates (gonorrhea and chlamydia) have been higher than state and national averages since 1998. The incidence of chlamydia in Douglas County has more than doubled from 1998 to 2014 and is over 30 percent higher than the national average. Gonorrhea has steadily increased in Douglas County and is 50 percent higher than the national average. These numbers are highest among those ages 15 to 24, with the trend only increasing.
Simply put, we are failing our city’s teens.
These statistics indicate the threat of risky sexual behaviors to the health and well-being of adolescents in Douglas County.
The Women’s Fund of Omaha’s biannual community survey has consistently shown sexual literacy and teen pregnancy, along with poverty, as key issues facing girls in the community. The correlation between teen pregnancy and poverty is evident from the data showing the high percentages of children in female-headed households living in poverty in Douglas County.
So the question remains: How do you fix such a large-scale, systemic issue? The answer is: collective impact.
Collective impact is when organizations from different sectors work together to solve a specific social issue using a common agenda and aligning resources. The Women’s Fund of Omaha has joined forces with the Sherwood Foundation, Douglas County Health Department, United Way of the Midlands, Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska Department of Education, Building Healthy Futures, Nebraska Methodist Health System and UNMC College of Public Health to establish the Adolescent Health Project.
The Adolescent Health Project seeks to create sustainable communitywide changes through a research-based, results-focused comprehensive approach. This approach would increase the sexual knowledge and health of youth and thereby decrease the number of youths engaging in risky sexual behavior and the rates of STDs and teen pregnancy.
The four priorities of the Adolescent Health Project include:
» Advocating for medically accurate, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education in all middle and high schools by utilizing the WISE (Working to Institutionalize Sex Ed) approach.
» Building capacity for STD testing and treatment among clinical providers.
» Launching a cutting-edge media campaign that is informed by teens, aimed at teens and tested by teens to increase awareness, promote safe-sex practices and encourage STD testing.
» Increasing access to long-acting reversible contraception.
Action is already underway to address the first three priorities. First, with assistance and support from the Women’s Fund of Omaha and the Sherwood Foundation, OPS is already beginning to implement the five phases of the nationally recognized WISE process that will ultimately result in an updated sex education program slated for the 2015-16 school year. Education is key to the success of reducing the alarming statistics our young people face.
Second, the Women’s Fund requested proposals from organizations and agencies for funding to increase the availability and effectiveness of STD prevention and treatment services in Omaha benefiting males and females ages 15 to 24. Funds are being raised and, once finalized, will be distributed among agencies to build capacity in testing, treatment and outreach.
Third, Serve Marketing — a Milwaukee-based nonprofit advertising agency that has implemented a successful, longstanding teen pregnancy prevention campaign in other markets — has developed a multiyear, multichannel marketing strategy to get important messaging to Omaha-area adolescents.
A major part of that strategy includes the website GetCheckedOmaha.com and a companion resource hotline, 1-844-690-CHKD (2453), which are provided by United Way of the Midlands. These sometimes shocking ads aim to raise awareness, open a dialogue and change behaviors around STDs and teen pregnancy.
Through this communitywide response, we have the opportunity to place Omaha on the map for boldly attacking sensitive issues impacting the future of our youth.