By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
In a ringing indictment of the nation’s “safe sex” programs, D.C. area school officials are planning to counter the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) among youth by offering free testing to all high school students in the coming school year.
According to a report appearing in the Washington Post, a pilot program conducted last year at eight DC high schools found that 13 percent of about 3,000 students tested positive for an STD, mostly gonorrhea or chlamydia, according to the DC Department of Health. These findings prompted an expansion of the program to all DC public high schools where about 12,000 students are currently enrolled.
STDs are also a concern because they increase the risk of contracting HIV. Washington DC currently has the highest AIDS rate in the nation.
“The program tells us that a lot of students in the public school system are engaging in unsafe sex,” said Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed, which advocates for more AIDS outreach and education in the schools. “If 13 percent of these students are testing positive for STDs, those same kids could get HIV. A lot needs to be done to get the message out to the schools . . . and this very high STD rate is an indication that what we’ve been doing is not effective.”
What they’ve been doing is providing little or no abstinence-only education while relying on “safe sex” education programs that too often result in increased sexual activity among youth.
For instance, a 2007 study by the D.C. public school system found that 60 percent of high school students and 30 percent of middle school students reported having had intercourse. Twenty percent of the high school students said they had had sex with four or more partners, and 12 percent of the middle school students said they had had three or more partners.
The expanded DC testing program is a near copy of a Philadelphia program that began in 2002 where more than four percent of the 16,000 students who submitted specimens for testing were found to be infected with chlamydia, gonorrhea or both.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because the condition is mainly asymptomatic, most cases of chlamydia go undiagnosed. The CDC estimates that there are about 2.8 million new cases in the U.S. each year, with more than one million remaining undiagnosed.
Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported STD in the U.S. with 118.9 diagnoses per 100,000 people with African Americans, American Indians and Hispanics disproportionately affected.
Overall, 19 million Americans become infected with an STD every year with half of these infections occurring in people between the ages of 15 and 24.
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