A big rise in the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea and continued high rates of chlamydia have prompted health officials to offer free contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, to parts of Northland.
In the 12 months to the end of June 123 cases of gonorrhoea - a big increase - were confirmed, said Northland District Health Board (NDHB) Medical Officer of Health Jonathan Jarman.
During the same period 1374 people were diagnosed with chlamydia, also known as the "quiet love bug". That averaged out at almost four cases every day.
In response NDHB has set up a three-year sexual health pilot, launched in Kaikohe today giving free contraceptives to all women wanting them, including the the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) also known as the morning-after pill.
Dr Jarman said while Northland's high rate of chlamydia was continuing and there had been a big increase in gonorrhoea, there were no parts of the region that stood out as STI hotbeds.
"We looked at various centres around Northland and Kaikohe which stood out [for the pilot] because of the high proportion of people on low incomes and the limited access to low-cost contraceptive services for women. Allowing women to be able to plan their families is an important part of whanau and family health," he said.
"We have high rates of chlamydia in Northland but these have been stable for a number of years. Chlamydia has been called the 'quiet love bug'.
"Many people with chlamydia infection do not have symptoms. Most Northland cases are people aged from 16 to 24."
While Northland had a "very high level" of chlamydia other places in New Zealand had higher rates.
"In contrast our gonorrhoea figures are much smaller. However, there has been a big increase this year. A new laboratory test [which is better at picking up the disease] was introduced this year and we believe this is the main reason for the increase."
As part of the pilot programme. if women seek access to ECP twice they will be offered a free long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) such as a copper IUD or Jadelle.
"This pilot is about giving women choices about what contraception they can use and enables women and whanau to choose when to have a baby," Dr Jarman said.
"The big advantage with using long-acting reversible contraception is that you do not need to take a pill every day. It is just a little plastic device which is inserted into the womb or a slow release medication which is placed under the skin of the upper arm. Normally these forms of contraception are quite expensive."