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The birth rate has declined in Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties among 15- to 19-year-olds since 1991, but more work remains, a state agency reports.

“Overall, it’s wonderful news. We used to be 13th in the nation in the highest teen birth rate and now we’re 16th in the nation. We’re going in the right direction. As a statewide community, I think the state has really embraced this issue and saw it as a true public health problem,” said Beth De Santis, chief executive officer of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

The campaign reports the teen birth rate has declined 64 percent since 1991, the result of decades of success for communities across the state.

The decline includes an 8 percent decrease in the state’s teen birth rate between 2014 and 2015, with the state’s birth rate for teens ages 15 to 19 standing at 26.1 births for every 1,000 females in 2015, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

While communities, schools and medical providers are helping teens to make good choices about their sexual health and relationships, a teen still gives birth in the state every 131 minutes.

“You’re still talking about over 4,000 births to kids 15 to 19 years old. So while the state gets to celebrate a 64 percent decline in the teen birth rate since 1991, we still have a lot more work to do,” De Santis said.

In 2015, South Carolina ranked in the top 10 nationally for rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and diagnosed HIV for all ages.

The S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has received a $1.5 million federal grant per year for five years to provide programs in Orangeburg, Aiken and Anderson counties.

Once launched, evidence-based programs will be implemented in middle schools, high schools and clinics in Orangeburg County as part of the “Expanding the Reach” project. De Santis said Bamberg and Barnwell counties are among the other counties that are actively partnering with the SCCPTP on this.

“Each county is diligently working to increase access to birth control among teens. Condoms Access Points have been implemented in business and community organizations to create safe spaces for teens to access condoms,” she said.

“All programs encourage abstinence as the safest and most effective option and promote the use of various forms of birth control and the proper and frequent use of condoms among sexually active teens. This is critical to not only preventing teen pregnancy, but STIs and HIV as well,” De Santis said.

She has said that continued focus on high-risk populations, such as youth in foster care and the juvenile justice system and those not in school, not working, or who are already parents will help.

“A lot of our evidence-based programming that we use across the state is about the prevention of pregnancy as well as STIs. So the message really needs to be tailor-made for the teen population and not just for the overall population,” she said.

Bamberg County ranked number one in the state with a teen birth rate of 15.6 for every 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 in 2015. The county has seen a 75 percent decline in its teen birth rate since 1991.

“There’s lots of different areas that we’ve had huge gains in, but I think Bamberg is specifically the most important case study that we can make in our state. The community has been so engaged for over 20 years,” De Santis said. "That’s the kind of sustained engagement that it takes in order to stay number one."

Michelle Nimmons, coordinator of Bamberg School District Two’s Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, said the district’s prevention efforts have been sustained over a 35-year period.

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Age-appropriate, evidence-based curricula and multiple methods have been used to reach adolescents.

“We provide parents and their children with evening programming. Those parent-child events are designed to promote healthy conversations between parents and their children. We believe that parents should be the primary sexuality educators for their children, so we promote starting conversations early and having them often,” Nimmons said.

The district provides age-appropriate abstinence education for pre-K through fifth-grade students, along with educational programming for middle and high school students, including training sessions by the Denmark-Olar High School Peer Educator group.

The high STI and HIV rates among teens is disheartening, Nimmons said. She said the issue deserves as much attention as pregnancy prevention.

“Continued funding opportunities have to be made available and partnerships have to be established so that all of us are mindful of how intertwined those two issues really are,” Nimmons said.

In Orangeburg County, the teen birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds has declined by 52 percent since 1991. The county had a 2015 teen birth rate of 33.7 percent, higher than the state average and higher than the county’s 2014 birth rate of 24.1.

In Calhoun County, the teen birth rate for teens ages 15 to 19 dropped by 71 percent since 1991. The county had a 2015 been birth rate of 24.6, lower than the state average but higher than the county’s 2014 teen birth rate of 19.8.\

For more information or to review the report, visit: https://www.teenpregnancysc.org/theissue or call 803-771-7700.

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter @DionneTandD.

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Staff Writer

Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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