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Pandemic adds hurdles for sexually transmitted disease reduction

Sandhya Raman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Health & Fitness

Rhodes wants a data-based approach reinstated in federally funded youth programs. She said the Trump administration and some states focused on “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs.

A January review in the Journal of Adolescent Health of 30 years of data on school programs “offers strong support for comprehensive sex education” rather than abstinence-only programs, wrote the authors, Eva S. Goldfarb and Lisa D. Lieberman of Montclair State University.

Brett Giroir, a former Trump administration assistant secretary for health, said HHS sought to include STI prevention in programs like the Personal Responsibility Education Program that gives states grants and the Title X family planning program.

“We really tried to, in the programs we had, really expand that as a core component,” he said in an interview. HHS released a multiyear strategic plan for STI reduction in December, which Giroir called “very nonpartisan, very science-based.”

The nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures found that only 28 states require sex education and HIV education in schools.

The pandemic’s effects are also driving providers and sexual health education advocates to push for resources and policies that could prevent the spread of STIs and expand treatment.

The recent COVID-19 relief law provides nearly $7.7 billion for public health workforce development grants. The language says the funds would be applicable to disease intervention specialists, workers who find and counsel individuals diagnosed with STIs and contact trace others who may be affected.

The National Coalition of STD Directors asked CDC to use $1.3 billion of that pool to hire 10,000 specialists who could restore STI contact tracing efforts.

 

A January survey of STD directors found that 87% of their programs are involved in leading or assisting COVID-19 contact tracing efforts in their jurisdictions. Thirty-seven percent of workers are fully focused on COVID-19.

Harvey said the STD directors group is also seeking federal funding in future appropriations bills to directly support STI clinics, which rely on state and local funding.

“We know the true economic impact of COVID is yet to hit state and local government, which is why we predict that this network of providers is really going to be decimated in the recovery period,” he said.

Harvey also suggested utilizing the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing of supplies to be used in COVID-19 and STI testing.

“It’s the same testing swabs and testing kits that are used for STDs that are used for COVID, so all of the supply chain has been disrupted because the resources are going to COVID testing. There’s a massive shortage of STD testing swabs,” he said.

Rhodes said advocates hope the upcoming White House budget will serve as a signal for Congress and will not include funding for abstinence-only programs but will include more funds for comprehensive sexual education.

“There’s urgent work to be done when it comes to access to care, as well as access to comprehensive sex ed, especially given … the COVID-19 crisis and virtual learning,” she said.

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