Remembering C. Everett Koop

CEverettKoopFormer U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a pediatric surgeon turned public health advocate, died Monday at the age of 96.

Koop was best known for his work around HIV/AIDS. Koop became surgeon general the year the AIDS pandemic began and played a fundamental role in educating Americans about the disease. In 1988, he wrote a brochure about the disease that was sent to 107 million households in the United States. The report discussed the way AIDS spread, the ways it did not spread, and how people could protect themselves. The report advocated condom use for the sexually active and sex education for schoolchildren. When Koop left his post as surgeon general in 1989, AIDS was a top research and educational priority and access to abortion remained largely intact.

“When I was getting my MPH, I participated in a student review of a PSA on using condoms to prevent HIV developed by Dr. Koop,” remembers Healthy Teen Network President/CEO Pat Paluzzi. “I have never forgotten that PSA for its humorous approach and the hysterical moment when Dr. Koop appeared in the bedroom of a couple about to have sex to remind us all when we sleep with one person, we sleep with all of their partners. He was my hero from that moment on. The field could use more of what he brought to the conversation-promoting good science even if it goes against our personal beliefs and using humor to get results. I miss him already.”

Prior to his tenure as surgeon general, Koop was surgeon-in-chief for more than 30 years at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

What do you think will be Dr. Koop’s most lasting legacy? 

I Love it When You Say the C-word

Vanessa Geffrard

In the midst of reviewing  all the wonderful and inspiring coverage from the recent International AIDS Conference, I stumbled upon an article citing that C-word use is high among teens, 16% higher now than it was in 1991, to be exact!

WOWZERS!

What great news!

Oh, not that C- word….

I mean condoms!  I am beaming with excitement knowing that teens want to protect themselves and want access to resources that enable them to make the safest choices. Reading the article was not only inspiring for the work I am devoted to, but it also made me think about what more needs to be done for our young people when fighting HIV/AIDS and creating this AIDS Free Generation that many leaders are discussing this week.

Currently, 60% of sexually active high schoolers have used condoms the last time they had sex, up from 46% in 1991 (but down a bit from 2003). You might be asking, “Vanessa, why is this so exciting for you?” It’s amazing, awe-inspiring, and the best thing ever because the work that we do whether it be as a volunteer,  a person who likes to give out condoms to their friends, an HIV test coordinator, health teacher, artist, or educator–the work we are doing with young people is working! Something that we are doing and saying is making a difference to our young people. Someone out there is not falling asleep during your condom demos and young people are listening to us when we give them up-to-date, evidence-based resources, education, and frank conversation about their sexual lives– something so natural and something that needs to be protected.

As shown throughout the coverage of the International AIDS Conference , however, is that we have GOT to do better. We’re doing great, but we can do more in light of the CDC reporting that four of every 10 new HIV infections occurs in people younger than 30. This is still too many in our fight to create an AIDS-free generation. I believe that our efforts are working and we have to keep up the good fight. We all know the money is needed to help in the fight, but what else do we need?

I don’t have all the answers, but I offer the following as some possible approaches to add to the mix:

  • Real talk and evidence-based comprehensive education about sex and sexual health in our society. We need to teach our young people how to communicate with partners and what to do in intimate situations when it comes to protecting themselves–even if they are not yet sexually active.
  •  Condoms are not the enemy. What happened to “common” portrayals of people like TLC having condoms in their videos? (Even Snoop Dogg discussed the consequences of STIs if condoms weren’t worn with lady friends!) I may be dating myself, but I feel that the wonderful world of condoms needs to be mainstream. It is FINE for a young man or woman (gasp!) to carry condoms! We carry other paraphernalia to protect ourselves from other elements, but what about pregnancy? STIs? HIV? —Condoms are our friends here, people! And we shouldn’t stigmatize a young person when they become empowered enough to carry them and use them to protect themselves.

I could write  a book on my personal opinions, but I know you also have valuable thoughts on this important subject! What do you think?  What would you add to the mix that would help our young people make responsible sexual decisions  and encourage them to use condoms consistently and correctly?

Vanessa Geffrard is a Training and Technical Assistance Associate at Healthy Teen Network.

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