HURRICANE, W.Va. - Nonprofit community-building organization Mission West Virginia has been awarded a $984,000, two-year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs to help with pregnancy prevention efforts throughout the state.
The grant is for Mission WV's Teaching Health Instead of Nagging Kids, or THINK, program.
Currently, the THINK program partners with programs in 22 counties across the state to provide young people with pregnancy prevention, healthy relationship and youth development education through their evidence-based curriculum, called Love Notes. With the funds from the new grant, Mission WV plans to expand THINK services to more counties in the state, including to more than 3,000 additional students in Wood and Jackson counties.
Jill Gwilt, director of THINK, said the program is grateful for the funding and believes it will help to continue improving health outcomes for young people across the state.
"This project will help us increase awareness of teen pregnancy prevention and reproductive health strategies throughout the state," Gwilt said. "This is a great opportunity for our organization to strategically and intentionally work with communities and individuals at greatest need."
Though teen pregnancy rates in the United States have drastically decreased over recent decades, 2017's record-low rate of 18.8 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years remains substantially higher than in other industrialized nations around the world.
According to the 2019 World Populations Prospects by the United Nations Population Division, nearly 60 countries around the world have lower adolescent fertility rates than does the United States. Nations like Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and others have rates of about 5 births per 1,000 teenage girls, or even lower.
As teen pregnancy becomes increasingly rare throughout the world and the U.S., several states like West Virginia continue to lag behind, experiencing substantially slower improvements than in other states with more accessible evidence-based prevention and education programs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state with the highest teen birth rate in the U.S. in 2017 was Arkansas, with a rate of 32.8 births per 1,000 teenage girls. The following states are Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas, West Virginia, Alabama and Tennessee. West Virginia is ranked eighth (highest) in the U.S., with a rate of 27.1.