By ALICE KATHERINE
The University of Mary Washington provides health care services for students through the on-campus Health Center, but students may find that they have fairly limited access to health and testing services for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
This is surprising, given that, “Nearly half of the 19 million new STDs each year are among young people aged 15-to-24 years,” and “Women bear long term effects [of STDs and STIs],” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Additionally, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction reports a 20 percent jump in sexual activity for men and women between the ages of 17 and 18.
UMW student population of 4,515 students is 64.3 percent female, according to a U.S. News and World Report evaluation. UMW has students from high-risk populations, including Washington D.C. and Richmond, VA, a former nationally ranked city in terms of STDs.
The on campus Health Center offers free birth control to female students and routinely refers students to the Virginia Department of Health in Fredericksburg, which offers clinics and testing to the general public on a first come, first serve basis.
The Health Center also offers monthly screenings for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, but only on select clinic dates with appointments through its Women’s Clinic.
They also facilitate primary test screenings for HIV through a partnership with the Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDs Support Services (FAHASS).
Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical care, research and education organization, recommends testing for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, Hepatitis, HIV, Syphilis and HPV selectively based on a variety of factors, including age and gender. A typical family practice doctor or State Department Health Center offers these comprehensive forms of testing. The campus Health Center does not test for Syphilis and forms of Hepatitis.
In the interest of public health and disease prevention, it may be easier to centralize student access to information and facilitate access to comprehensive STD screenings. While there is information available in office and online to accommodate students, the offering of testing through different agencies is less than ideal.
The relatively high cost of STD screenings overall, upwards of $1,000, and the necessary equipment and staff to provide testing may be obstacles to providing care. However, students are currently billed the cost of a regular doctor’s exam with health insurance for selective, rather than comprehensive, screenings of STDs on campus.
Subsequently, students in an elevated risk group able to afford testing may have difficulty accessing it. Providing birth control services to students without comprehensive and reliable STD testing appears contradictory. Referring students to organizations that provide service to underserved populations primarily as safety net providers is less than ideal.
Public health practices that create loopholes in services are detrimental to the overall health of the university community because they can lead to confusion for students as well as unnecessary difficulty in health care access. The UMW Health Center should provide centralized and comprehensive testing for the benefit of the university community.