This month, Hopkins will be observing STI Awareness Month by providing students with a method of free testing for sexually transmitted diseases next Wed., April 24. Prompted by a need for less expensive tests, as well as greater convenience when obtaining these tests, the initiative will take place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Mattin Center courtyard.
Sophomore Ellie Bergren explained how the idea for this event first originated. “I approached Dr. Joffe at the Student Health Center a few months ago concerned about the cost of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) testing on campus,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
“I felt strongly that on college campuses where STDs can be rampant that testing should be more accessible for students [since] one in two sexually active young people will get an STD by the age of 25, and there is clearly a need for regular, affordable and accessible testing,” Bergren wrote.
Dr. Alain Joffe, Director of the Student Health and Wellness Center, then facilitated collaboration between Bergren and the Student Government Association (SGA). He also spoke to Dean of Student Life Susan Boswell and went on to share that he and Boswell are willing to help fund the tests.
“Dean Boswell and I will be sharing the costs,” he wrote. “We are prepared to test up to 50 students [and] each test costs $45.”
This event —which has been the collective work of Bergren, SGA, Joffe, Boswell and Barbara Gwinn Schubert, Associate Director of the JHU Center for Health Education and Wellness — stems from the lack of confidentiality of STI testing, an issue that the sponsors hold frequently deters students from taking these tests.
Though chlamydia testing is now covered for women as part of the Affordable Care Act, students must use their insurance to get tested for free, meaning the EOB, or “explanation of benefits,” will be sent to the policyholder of the insurance plan, often their parents. Many students are uncomfortable with their parents being notified of STI tests taken and opt to not get tested at all, the sponsors explained.
Joffe stressed that students can still get tested for free without using their insurance plans by using the website iwanththekit.org, a service providing both men and women in certain states with STI tests that can then be returned, confidentially, by mail. Those tested are notified of their results within a couple of weeks.
Junior Zoe Cohen, a Senator in the SGA, explained the way by which students will be able to take the STI tests next Wednesday. “We will have a table in the Mattin Center courtyard where students can get information about STD testing, sign consent forms, and pick up their test kit,” she said. “Students will be able to do the self test in one of the bathrooms in the Mattin Center, and drop off their test in a specified drop off location.”
Schubert emphasized that this event is an effort to make STI testing more available to more students. “We want to make this as convenient and accessible as possible,” she said.
The results of tests taken next Wednesday will be available in roughly the same length of time as STI tests offered through iwantthekit.org.
“It usually takes seven to 10 days to get the result back once received by the lab,” Schubert said.
Although only 50 students will be able to take STI tests through this initiative, those in charge hope it will trigger greater awareness of relevant health issues on campus and also catalyze future events on a larger scale.
“We are hoping to get a sense of the response from the student body to get an idea of how to approach this issue in the future,” said Bergren.
Joffe shared similar sentiments and stressed the importance of conducting this event on a small scale before expanding the initiative more fully. “This is a pilot program,” he said. “We’ll have to see how it is received.”
Cohen expressed her hope for the future of events.
“We are using this event to gage student interest and hope to bring it back on a larger scale in the fall,” Cohen said. “The goal of the event is for students to make their health a priority and to show students the importance of getting tested for STDs once a year.”
The first offering of free STI testing will only be extended to 50 students, but the effects of the event are intended to extend to a much larger number of Hopkins affiliates.
“It is important for students to be informed about sexual health and specifically to know that anyone can contract an STD and that a lack of symptoms does not always indicate that they are STD-free,” Cohen stated.
Schubert shared her view for a future when students take STI tests habitually.
“The challenge is finding the money to support free testing,” she said. “We want this to be something that students just routinely do.”