A recent CDC report on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) found that the District of Columbia (DC) has the highest rate of any state or territory. For instance, rates of reported cases of gonorrhea ranged from 611 cases per 100,000 people. Rates of reported syphilis cases ranged from 40.2 cases per 100,000 people. Rates of reported chlamydia cases ranged from 1,299 cases per 100,000 people. While the rate may appear alarming, this means that more people are seeking care and accessing crucial sexual health services. As a reminder, these are the number of reported STD cases.
Michael Kharfen, Senior Deputy Director of the HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis, STD, and TB in the Washington, DC, Department of Health, points out that the high number might actually indicate something good is going on.
“A lot of our efforts around promoting regular STD screening is that the more you screen, the more you’re going to find,” Kharfen says. “The way most screening takes places is that more than 90% get treated and cured. So while these numbers are significant, part of what we also see in that [report] is that some of our efforts to connect with people in recognizing that even though you’re not feeling anything or seeing anything, you still might have an STD [are working].”
Health centers can lead the charge in ensuring that, when people seek care treatment and prevention, messaging around STDs is non-stigmatizing. Health centers can also recognize that multiple factors such as poverty, stigma, unstable housing, lack of access to comprehensive sex education, etc. contribute to the increase in STDs. Health centers can also take steps to address common barriers to care, such as transportation and scheduling, by hosting sexual health information sessions in communities, offering transportation stipends or free rides, and offering extended appointment hours.
To support everyone in seeking out the care that they deserve, below are a few health centers that offer free, confidential, and affordable testing services.
1. La Clínica Del Pueblo
La Clínica Del Pueblo is a clinic that serves Latinx folks by providing testing, medical, and language access services. La Clínica also serves sexual minority groups through its LGBTQ health centers known as ¡Empodérate! (Empower Yourself!). There are currently two ¡Empodérate! Centers, one based in Washington, DC, while the other is located in Hyattsville, MD. The DC-based ¡Empodérate! Center is the only bilingual HIV program that focuses on young Latinx men who have sex with men and young Latinx transgender women between the ages of 18 and 29 in Washington, DC. The organization was founded in 1983.
2. Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc.
Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc. works to improve the health and well being of Black gay and bisexual men through innovative programs and services. Health centers are based in Northwest and Landover, MD. The community-based AIDS service organization was founded in 1988 as a support group for Black gay men living with HIV.
3. Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood Metropolitan of Washington DC is dedicated to providing high quality, affordable sexual health services to individuals of all gender and sexual identities. Centers are based in Washington, DC, Gaithersburg, MD, and Suitland, MD.
4. Children’s National
Children’s National includes an Adolescent Health Center that supports young people thrive into adulthood. In addition to testing services, the Center offers several programs and services for young people that cover peer pressure, puberty, reproductive health, etc. Their Youth Pride Clinic provides primary and specialty care services to LGBTQ youth throughout the greater Washington, DC region. Children’s National was one of the nation’s first children’s hospitals, opening in 1870.
Whitman-Walker is a non-profit HIV and LGBTQ community health center. The organization offers a variety of health services at centers in Northwest and Southeast. In addition, Whitman-Walker offers prevention and treatment services for young people ages 13-24. These services are offered at the Youth Services location in Eastern Market. The organization was founded in 1973.
Each health center mentioned offers services in a manner that is competent and confidential for individuals of various identities, and many providers can work with you to help you get the care you need at low or no cost. By getting regularly tested for STDs, you’re able to get the care you need and continue to thrive.