New technology brings more convenient, confidential STD testing to South LA

The 2010 stats on STDs in Los Angeles are in, and while it’s not good news for South LA, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he’s determined to do something about the high numbers in his district.

The Second Supervisorial District, which includes South LA, has the highest number of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the county. Last year, a total of 14,999 chlamydia cases and 3,646 gonorrhea cases were reported for residents of the Second District—that’s more than 30 percent of all chlamydia cases and 38 percent of all the gonorrhea cases in the county.

It was against these grim statistics that Ridley-Thomas addressed an audience of community and faith leaders, healthcare providers and educators outside the new Martin Luther King Jr. Public Health Center to share his district’s STD Control Plan.

imageThe plan, which seeks to help women overcome the barriers to the diagnosis and treatment of STDs, revolves around an expansion of the county’s “I Know” home STD testing program. The county is emphasizing the technology behind the “I Know” campaign—both in the test itself and in the way women can obtain the free testing kits.

The test, which can be done at home in a few minutes, is a nucleic acid amplification test, which the Department of Public Health identifies as the most accurate type of test for either chlamydia or gonorrhea. It’s the same type of test that would be done at a clinic, but now women can get tested on their own time without having to arrange transportation or face the embarrassment or stigma that may exist with going to a clinic.

Testing kits can be ordered for free through the website or by calling a toll-free hotline (800-758-0880). The kit arrives by mail within a week. And starting this year, outreach workers will be attending community events who can register women for a kit on-the-fly with mobile devices. The Second District will also be placing kiosks around South LA that allow women to sign up to have a kit delivered. Ridley-Thomas said the kiosks were movable and that they would be experimenting with locations to find the most high-traffic areas.

Results can then be checked online or through a toll free number. Women can have confidential access to their results at a time that works for them, without having to worry about a nurse calling them at home or work or somewhere else that lacks privacy.

The hope is that the increased options for testing, along with education, will help overcome feelings of shame tied to going to a public clinic to get tested. As Ridley-Thomas had his audience repeat several times, “Shame is not a cure.”

Mobile testing units offer another alternative to visiting a clinic or performing the test at home. Health workers can run tests for common STDs as well as HIV. Each RV contains two private examination rooms.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the director of the LA County Department of Public Health emphasized that it’s especially important for young women to get tested for these two diseases because they can be asymptomatic, and if left untreated, can lead to more serious complications like pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility in some cases. With increased testing, Dr. Fielding hopes the county can identify instances of chlamydia and gonorrhea early on, when they are easily treatable.

Reverend Clyde Oden, the senior pastor of Byant Temple AME Church Oden said the options for increased health awareness are much needed in “a community that has been overlooked and underserved.”

In addition to the new technology, Oden also encouraged a new kind of education for faith leaders in South LA so that they can actually talk knowledgeably about sexual health to the young people in their faith communities.

The question remains though, will the increased accessibility to testing reduce the number of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea?

Angelica Woodard and Andreina Cordova, two peer counselors and volunteers with the “I Know” street team, think the kits will make a difference. While education about STDs continues to be a challenge, the kits, they explained, remove another barrier to getting tested that women in South LA were facing—transportation to a clinic.

“You get out there and realize that there’s just a huge knowledge gap for people in this area of their lives,” Cordova said. “We need to get people talking.”

And they’re hoping to do just that. Recently, they’ve been hitting the streets, passing out information on the kits and answering questions.

“We held up a banner at the Lakers’ parade that said ‘LA: Number One in basketball and Number One in chlamydia.’” Cordova said. “That got their attention.”

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