Despite the best efforts of public health officials and other groups, the rate of sexually transmitted disease infections among teenagers continues to rise. While HIV and AIDS captures most of the attention, people often forget about other STDs such as gonorrhea, herpes and chlamydia.
“You hear stories about HIV all the time, but have you ever heard anyone tell you their personal story about herpes or chlamydia?,” asks Ann M. Locke, director of health initiatives for the Springfield Urban League.
Chlamydia is the most frequently transmitted STD in the U.S. According to the Illinois Department of Public Heath, from 2000 to 2007, new cases of Chlamydia rose 89.5 percent; of those, 75 percent were between the ages 16 and 24.
That was part of what led the Urban League, IDPH and Sangamon County Health Department to initiate its Youth Wellness Bureau, which trains teenagers to educate their peers about STDs.
“We’re trying to find a way to get closer to that audience. They really need to hear that message,” Locke says.
On Saturday, April 18, the Urban League and IDPH’s Center for Minority Health Services, sponsor a Teen Testing Day from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Pizza Machine, 107 W. Cook St., inside Vinegar Hill Mall. Even though the event is primarily aimed at young people, anyone can come for a free screening.
Those ages 17 and up who attend will receive a ticket to the “Turn Your Swag On” party, hosted by former IT cover boy DJ Rico P at Club Chrome later on that evening.
Nzinga West, who runs the Urban League’s 21st Century after school program at Southeast High School explains that Rico P’s parties capture a high-risk group. And one that Locke points out can’t always be reached with traditional school-based or faith-based outreach.
Plus, West adds, “He’s not that much older than them. He’s not that far from where they’ve been.”