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Comic strip informs Swiss girls of contraception choices

The contraceptive pill is 40 years old this year, an appropriate time for young people to be reminded about the benefits of contraception. The health authorities are hoping that a comic strip can help reduce the number of abortions carried out.

The cartoon, entitled One Day, A Flower, is aimed at girls aged 15 to 19 and addresses one of the key problems facing adolescents and one which they often find hard to talk about: what kind of contraception are we going to use?

"We've taken the opportunity to make information about effective methods of contraception more readily available," says Françoise Méan, of the Lausanne-based family planning foundation Profa.

"The comic-strip is well-drawn, and presents the possibilities in a positive way. We hope that young girls will identify with the characters," she adds.

Switzerland has one of the lowest abortion rates in Europe: between eight and nine women per 1,000 a year. That compares with around 19 per 1,000 in Sweden, 23 per 1,000 in the United States and 70 in Russia.

Unlike some countries, the termination rate in Switzerland for girls aged 15 to 19 is lower than those for older women

"We may have a very low rate, but going through an abortion at that age can be very difficult, so it's worth doing whatever we can to avoid it," Méan told swissinfo.

She said that the campaign was also undertaken because recent studies have shown that a considerable number of young people use no contraception during their first sexual encounter.

The brochure portrays a number of scenarios involving young couples embarking on that first sexual experience, and the dilemmas which confront them. The message is clear: help and advice is at hand.

"We are always surprised that some girls do not know where to ask for information," Françoise Méan says.

"They get information through sex education at school, but it often comes well before they have started even thinking about having a relationship with someone. We want to make the information available at the right time for them," she explains.

This is not the first time the authorities in French-speaking Switzerland have used a comic strip to reach young people when tackling a difficult subject. Previous campaigns have dealt with AIDS prevention, prostitution and violence.

One Day, A Flower has already been distributed in France. Slight amendments have been made for the Swiss version.

The German pharmaceuticals firm, Schering, the market leader for contraceptives in Switzerland, has been the driving force behind the project. But it has been edited by Profa, which will distribute the 20,000 copies among family planning clinics and other doctors' surgeries throughout French-speaking Switzerland

The sexual behaviour of young people has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, mainly as a result of the threat of AIDS. This has seen a dramatic rise in the use of condoms, at the expense of other forms of contraception.

The new booklet aims to show them that there are other options available. These include the pill, three-monthly injections and implants under the skin. The authorities also encourage a double protection - using the pill and a condom.

"The condom is used mainly at the beginning of a relationship. But the pill is probably the most convenient for a young girl. All forms of contraception have advantages and disadvantages, but the pill probably has fewer disadvantages than the others," Méan says.

by Roy Probert


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