Lessons Learned: STD Awareness Month 2011

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Commentary Sexual Health

Lessons Learned: STD Awareness Month 2011

Gail Bolan

STD Awareness Month (SAM) is important because of the potential harm of untreated STDs, including adverse pregnancy outcomes, infertility, cancers of the reproductive tract, and increased likelihood of HIV transmission.

April is STD Awareness month.  This article is one in a series published by Rewire in partnership with the National Coalition of STD Directors, focused on aspects of STD prevention, treatment and funding and the public health implications of neglecting STDs.

As advocates for STD prevention and treatment, you are well aware that April is STD Awareness Month (SAM), an annual observance to increase awareness about the impact of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on the lives of Americans and the importance of discussing STD concerns with healthcare providers and sex partners. Now, at the end of the month, it’s a good time to look back at the importance and impact of this annual observance.

SAM is an important health observance because of the potential of harmful health consequences stemming from STDs. Consequences of undiagnosed and untreated STDs include adverse pregnancy outcomes, infertility, cancers of the reproductive tract, and increased likelihood of HIV transmission. According to the CDC’s 2009 STD Surveillance Report, there are approximately 19 million new STD infections yearly. Adolescent girls (15 to 19 years of age) and young women (20 to 24 years of age) are especially hard-hit by two of the most common reportable infectious diseases in the U.S., chlamydia and gonorrhea.

There were more than 1.2 million cases of chlamydia reported to CDC in 2009, the largest number of cases ever reported to CDC for any condition. Women, especially young and minority women, are hardest hit by chlamydia. Gonorrhea figures were more hopeful in 2009, but it is still a public health concern. Although there was a 10 percent decline from the past year, gonorrhea was still the second most common reportable infectious disease in the U.S in 2009. The gonorrhea rate for women was slightly higher than for men.

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Conditions such as infertility are especially important to highlight. Untreated STDs can lead to serious long-term health consequences (such as infertility), especially for adolescent girls and young women. CDC estimates that undiagnosed and untreated STDs cause at least 24,000 women in the U.S. to become infertile each year. Racial minorities continue to face severe disparities across all three reportable STDs. While racial disparities persist overall, African-Americans, especially young African-American women, are the most affected. Young African-American women face significantly higher rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea than any other group, while the highest rates of syphilis are among African-American men.

With these startling statistics, it’s more important than ever to conduct a dedicated health observance about STDs.

SAM 2011

This year, the Division of STD Prevention’s message during SAM promoted STD testing among young people, who are particularly vulnerable to STDs and make up half of all new cases. Young people were encouraged to find a nearby STD testing center by visiting www.findSTDtest.org or texting their zip code to 498669. Again, we partnered with MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America for the 3rd annual launch of the GYT: Get Yourself Tested campaign. GYT informs young people about STDs, promotes STD testing (“get yourself tested”), and encourages your people to talk to their partners, health care providers, and parents about STD prevention (“get yourself talking”.) GYT activities included:

  • MTV shows geared towards young people discussing common myths about STDs and featuring popular musical artists and reality TV stars.
  • Assistance to support national GYT implementation through the dissemination of nine subcontracts valued up to $20,000 each to support locally tailored GYT efforts.
  • Re-launch of www.GYTNow.org, the informational hub of the campaign for basic facts about STDs, talking tips, and a testing center locator.
  • Materials to support health providers in their efforts to participate in the GYT campaign and encourage their patients to get tested.
  • Online and digital materials designed not only to encourage testing, but to demonstrate how to accomplish the objective, starting with talking about sex and STD concerns and ending with learning test results and obtaining information about safer sex.
  • Other SAM activities from DSTDP included:

o   Revamp of the STD Awareness Resource Site which includes materials, education tools, and information to support STD awareness and prevention activities.

o   GYT materials were available for order including GYT t-shirts, stickers, buttons, and educational materials.

o   Podcasts created specifically for SAM and for a targeted audience  

o   DSTDP’s Twitter profile @CDCSTD was the featured guest on NPIN’s Twitter Chat on April 21 learning about SAM activities from people and organizations in the field

  • Lessons Learned from SAM 2011: thoughts for next year

o   STD testing messages could be incorporated with other sexual health messages, and could be directed not only toward youth in general, but also toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning populations.  Specific messages for racial and ethnic minorities should be considered as well.

o   Our partners in health care, including health departments, NGOs, and providers of all types, need to be informed of the SAM observances, provided with materials and resources to help support the objectives, and given every opportunity to succeed with increasing sexual health around the nation.

o   We should expand our relationships with both local and national partners, so that the dissemination and uptake of SAM can be improved at multiple levels: government, non-government, community, clinic, and outreach partners are essential to these efforts.

o   We should emphasize what can be gained from improving the sexual and reproductive health of America’s young people, and the benefits we will all realize from implementing SAM lessons year-round.