Thursday, June 11, 2009

Get Yourself Tested Is Good Advice

By Paula Gianino, Peter Brownlie, Tonia Stubblefield

The "Get Yourself Tested" campaign -- or for the text-savvy, GYT09 -- was created as a means of addressing the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions' recently released and alarming statistics: one in four teenage females [contract] HAS a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and half of all teenagers are sexually active.

Missouri's score card is even worse. Missouri's largest cities -- Kansas City and St. Louis -- lead the country in chlamydia and gonorrhea rates. Two-thirds of Missouri's high school juniors are sexually active, and one in two young adults will contract an STD before their 25th birthday. These statistics are unacceptable and a cause for alarm and action, as they impact the health and well-being of Missouri's teenagers and young adults.

Our former governor and members of our legislature have turned their backs on this crisis. They eliminated Missouri's family planning program while also reducing the standards for comprehensive and evidence-based sexual health information in public schools. Meanwhile they refused to pass sensible prevention legislation this year that would allow health professionals to presumptively treat the partners of patients who have STDs -- a clinical standard that exists in most other states.

Given these cutbacks in funding and services, public health providers like Planned Parenthood face great barriers in identifying and treating those who are infected. Each year, over 19 million Americans contract a sexually transmitted disease, and most go undetected or undiagnosed due to a social stigma around testing and elusive symptoms of many diseases. Left untreated these STDs can lead to cancer, infertility and in the case of HIV, death.

Therefore, this past April the "Get Yourself Tested" campaign was launched in honor of National STD Awareness Month. Created in a partnership with MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Planned Parenthood, the goal of the campaign was to reduce the social stigma and fear surrounding STD testing, and increase the number of individuals tested. The partner organizations used creative outreach and media while Planned Parenthood affiliates across the nation offered free and low-cost testing to anyone that walked into our doors. The results were amazing.

Throughout Missouri we saw increases in the number of people who were tested. In Kirksville, Rolla and Lake of the Ozarks, 20 percent more people received STD tests than during the same period last year. Southwest Missouri health centers saw a significant increase, giving nearly 200 HIV tests and 600 gonorrhea and chlamydia tests. Kansas City health centers provided 990 STD tests. St. Louis' tests for HIV rose 94 percent from the year prior while gonorrhea and chlamydia tests rose 77 percent, compared to April 2008.

The month-long campaign was so successful, that the "Get Yourself Tested" initiative will continue throughout the year for teens and young adults. GYT is a positive campaign that targets both women and men, and gives individuals the information and services needed to be healthy and safe and to take control of their lives and health. We urge youths to visit for more information.

While the campaign represents an enormous step forward, the results show that we can't do it all on our own. For the past five years, the Missouri legislature has ignored the prevention first act which includes comprehensive sex education -- the first step in reducing the number of teens infected with an STD. Missourians should continue to push for legislation that would assist all of our youths -- and adults -- and greatly improve our state's health.
Gianino, Browlie and Stubblefield are the respective presidents and CEOs of the Planned Parenthoods of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, Kansas and Mid-Missouri and Tri-Rivers.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Missouri Forum. 6/09


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