The Effect of the Hurricane Katrina Disaster on Sexual Behavior and Access to Reproductive Care for Young Women in New Orleans

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Abstract

Objective:

The Hurricane Katrina disaster caused rapid displacement of over a million persons in metropolitan New Orleans. The purpose of this study was to describe changes in sexual behavior and access to reproductive care pre- and postrapid displacement among a cohort of young women receiving family planning services before displacement.

Methods:

Women 16 to 24 years old, who were attending 2 public family planning clinics and enrolled in a vaginal douching prevention study, were located 5 to 6 months after Katrina and interviewed by telephone to elicit information about sexual behavior and access to reproductive care.

Results:

Women who were located were interviewed (N = 55). Of these, 96% were black, 62% were employed before the disaster, and the mean age was 22.1 (SD 2.1). In the 5 to 6 months after disaster, 86% lived in 3 or more places, 31% had returned to New Orleans, 17% needed health care but could not access it, 40% had not used birth control, and 2 (4%) experienced an unintended pregnancy as a result of lack of access to care. When compared with baseline, after the hurricane, women were less likely to have attended family planning services, to have used birth control, to have >1 sex partner, to have a vaginal odor or discharge.

Conclusion:

Relief efforts for disasters causing rapid displacement of impoverished women should include reproductive care such as provision of contraception, condoms, and STI services, as well as linking women back into care.

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