WASHINGTON – D.C.’s plan to offer free STD testing to all high school students is earning high marks from advocates in advance of an annual report on the city’s fight against HIV and AIDS.
The not-for-profit D.C. Appleseed Center gives the city an A or A- in four or 12 categories, including condom distribution, and H.I.V. surveillance and testing.
So far this year the city has distributed more than 1.5 million condoms.
“They have signs posted and, you know, they’re giving out condoms and stuff like that to try to, you know, help the people that’s around,” said Brenda Bracey, a District resident.
J’s Barber Shop in Southeast is one business contributing to the condom distribution effort. Employee Dave Mention says in three week’s J’s has given out three baskets of free condoms to everyone from teenagers to grown men.
Appleseed gave the city a C+ for AIDS education in schools, but will likely change with the new program for STD testing in high schools. The program requires students to attend a lecture about STDs. Students are then invited to provide a urine sample, but they’re allowed to say no.
“More stuff [is] going around now especially with teenagers,” said Tiara Barnes, a Cardozo High School student.
A recent survey found some 60 percent of D.C. high school students were sexually active. Student El’Andra Butts thinks teen sex is wrong and dangerous.
“You never know what people have and they could have sexual intercourse with different people and they might not tell their partner what they have,” said Butts.
“If more schools have it, I think the kids would be less inclined to go out and do things things, you know?” said Art Clark, a D.C. resident. “I think it’s a good idea.”
“It’s better for them to do it in school [because] that way the parents — like some people don’t like telling them that and their parents wont have to find out,” said Martin Conway, a Cardozo high school student.
The STD program was tested in eight high schools last year. It found 13 percent of about 3,000 students tested positive for an STD. Most of the children were infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia.
Officials say students with STDs are more at risk for HIV/AIDS infection.
“A number of students were having unsafe sex — unprotected sex which means they are going to be at risk for HIV/AIDS — a much more serious thing than the STDs,” said Walter Smith of the D.C. Appleseed Center.
The city has the nation’s worst HIV infection rate, with 3 percent of the population testing positive. That rate of infection is considered an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mother Lisa Terry says she was first unsure about testing in schools, but changed her mind when she heard that statistic. “Well then again you know what? It’s probably a good idea,” she said.
According to the report, Mayor Adrian Fenty needs to do more to pull together additional government resources to tackle the disease and strengthen the city’s nascent needle exchange program.
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