A new method for testing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been distributed around campus. You can find paper bags containing these kits in Commons, Merrill Gymnasium, the OIE, and residence halls.
“This is a way to make STI screening more available and accessible to students outside of Health Services hours and recognizing some of the barriers students face,” Abby Alfred, Manager of Outreach and Support Services, said.
The kits placed around campus come with instructions that allow for students to get tested on their own time, regardless of Health Services’ operating hours. The testing kits can be dropped off on a table as soon as you walk into the building. It is not necessary to even walk into the building completely, or interact with anyone when dropping them off. This is vastly different than the old testing process, which required students to come into Health Services and ask to be tested.
Alfred and members of her team have recognized that the elimination of any interaction with a Health Services employee will allow for more students to feel comfortable enough to get tested. Although they believe that no one in Health Services would ever judge anyone asking to be tested, they are aware of this fear that prevents many students from getting tested.
It is important to note the STI kits only test for gonorrhea and chlamydia; and only students who are asymptomatic should be using the kits. “For some students, coming into Health Services is still the best option because the screening is limited,” Alfred said.
“One of the big recommendations made by public health experts to reduce the rates of STIs is to start incorporating at-home testing,” Alfred said. At-home testing has not been widely used in the United States, but research has shown the UK has had some success with it.
Companies in the United States have also begun to create at-home STI testing kits. Alfred at first thought of using the at-home testing kits made by one of these companies, though it became clear that the use of these products would have been cost-prohibitive. Last fall, Bates worked with Central Maine Medical Center to create its own testing kits which were distributed around campus the first week of the semester.
“We wanted to figure out a way to really do it for our students in an equitable way,” Alfred commented on the decision to make their own kit.
The intention of this new testing program was to increase the rates of STI testing, with the eventual impact of decreasing the overall number of cases at Bates. Last year, the CDC reported the highest rates of STIs ever recorded with nearly 2.3 million cases nationwide. Young people ages 15 to 24 are at the highest risk for contact with STIs, rendering college campuses particularly at risk. This is why a change was needed in STI testing and treatment.
It has been predicted that once the number of STI tests Health Services receives increases, the case number of STIs will also increase. However, this increase in cases will only be temporary. “If we are identifying cases and providing treatment, that’s when we are going to see a drop,” Alfred says.
The new STI testing program’s convenience and accessibility will do more than decrease the number of cases at Bates over time, it will allow students to take responsibility for their health in a more comfortable way.