STD tests on the rise

BY KATIE SIMS | JUNE 18, 2009 7:21 AM

The number of men getting tested for HIV in Iowa more than doubled in the last year, and it increased by 50 percent in many other states, recent reports of Planned Parenthood Centers’ youth testing show.

And MTV is partially responsible. Surrounding its campaign — Get Yourself Tested — with popular vernacular and celebrity endorsements, it is aiming for a serious goal: encouraging young people to get tested for STDs.

Karen Thompson, the program manager of the STD Prevention and Partner Services for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said 70 percent or more of positive STD test results fall within the 15- to 24-year-old category.

MTV partnered with Planned Parenthood of America and the Kaiser Family Foundation in April — national STD Awareness Month — to inform young people about infection risks, increase testing, and address social stigmas that surround STD testing.

The campaign targeted 15- to 24-year-olds, the age group making up approximately half of the 19 million new STD cases in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 20,000 people received the message through more than 450 public outreach and education events across the country. Clinics involved offered free testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases for anyone who requested it during the month of April.

The campaign spread its message to young people via Facebook, Twitter, TV commercials, and straight from celebrities’ mouths in an attempt to eliminate the social stigma about getting tested.

“Absolutely, there is a social stigma to talk about STDs, get tested and get treated,” said Thompson, “Get Yourself Tested is trying to normalize talking about health with positive role models and being open about having those discussions.”

At the Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa office in Cedar Rapids, the first and last weeks in April were busier than usual because of the free testing. Most of the tests given were for chlamydia and gonorrhea — the most common STDs in the 15- to 24-year-old group. The clinic also ran a few HIV tests.

“The nice thing about testing is you can come in and pee in a cup, it is noninvasive and private,” said Barbara Chadwick, director of patient services at the Cedar Rapids Planned Parenthood.

And it seemed to have worked. In April 2008, the clinic performed about 60 STD tests for people younger than 25 years old. After the April campaign this year, it had performed around 100.

The campaign only funded free testing for the month of April, however. Planned Parenthood has its own fund, made up of donations from visitors and patients, so people who can’t afford testing can utilize that money.

“We do what we need to do to get people covered,” Chadwick said.

With or without Soulja Boy and Flo Rida’s encouragement, the health statistics alone might inspire some to get tested. One in two sexually active people will contract an STD by the time they are 25, according to the American Social Health Association.

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