Primary care doctors should screen for STDs at every appointment

by Asha Kodan for The Diamondback

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.

In 2018, rates of sexually transmitted diseases should not be on the rise. But that's exactly what's happening nationwide, including in Maryland. Just between 2016 and 2017, there was a 15 percent increase in cases of gonorrhea, 12.3 percent in syphilis and 9 percent in chlamydia.

Why are these diseases spreading despite the development of faster STD screens? One of the key factors is a decline in funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's STD prevention division, which has received $148 million this year, a drop of more than $20 million since 2003. Less funds means fewer employees, clinics and public health campaigns. Experts say that messages "have to be constant and consistent to be the most effective." So with less money to churn out campaigns, there are fewer public announcements about safe sex and the importance of STD testing.

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The increase in STD rates may have to do with a process called pre-exposure prophylaxis, which can reduce the risk of HIV contraction from sex by more than 90 percent when done consistently. Experts speculate that because PrEP is available, people are less worried about getting HIV. This leads people to be less careful about using condoms, even though PrEP does not guarantee protection from other STDs.

Officials in the city of Baltimore are attempting to get more people to use protection and get tested. A mobile van drives around the city to administer free tests, and two Baltimore STD clinics have increased their hours. Baltimore residents also have the option to get free condoms in the mail every month.