University should offer more frequent and less expensive STD testing

Let’s be honest, most of us do it.

But not all students are having sex as safely as they could be. It’s time for students to be more proactive when it comes to their sexual health and that means getting routinely tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

All sexually active students at GW should be getting tested for HIV and other STDs. Many students on campus turn to the Colonial Health Center to provide these essential services, but the costs associated with these tests – which range from no cost to $25 – can be exclusionary to students. GW’s optional Student Health Insurance Plan only covers a full suite of STD tests once per year and students using any other insurance will be forced to pay the office visit and any added deductibles. SHIP should cover sexual health testing for students more regularly throughout the year and the CHC should offer free testing more regularly to improve campus and citywide health.

Gay and bisexual men and people who have frequent unprotected sex and those with previously weakened immune systems should be tested anywhere from every three to six months, and at least once a year, according to guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many doctors also recommend that people get tested for STDs every time they change sexual partners. But this is far more frequent than SHIP allows for and if students that are enrolled in the program get tested at the recommended frequency, they could end up paying hundreds out of their own pockets.

The CHC has made strides to improve accessibility for some STD tests. The test for HIV is free at the CHC at all times and on the first Wednesday of each month, students can be tested without paying the usual $30 office fee applied to all CHC visits. Testing for other STDs requires various procedures like urine analysis, throat swabs and anal swabs, which run from $10 to $60. But these tests are essential if a patient wants to be screened for conditions like HIV, HPV, chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, hepatitis and syphilis.

One might expect that a student’s health insurance would be able to foot the bill for sexual health testing. Unfortunately, the CHC only accepts SHIP so many students who are enrolled under their parents’ plans are forced to pay out of pocket.

Universally-free STD testing for students with or without SHIP would improve sexual health on GW’s campus and across the District, and bring the school on par with the practices of one of GW’s peer institutions, New York University, which provides free HIV testing and counseling all days of the year, regardless of a student’s insurance plans.

D.C. has an STD crisis on its hand, as rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia have all followed an upward trend in the past three years. While certain communities have had rates of HIV infection drop, the rate for young people in the District has risen in the past year. With rising rates of STDs across the board in our community for college students’ demographic, a singular test per year is inadequate in protecting students from the spread of STDs.

While testing is not a solution to this epidemic, the spread of these diseases can be decreased because individuals who are frequently tested are more cognizant of their STD status and unlikely to knowingly spread STDs. On the other hand, those who are unaware that they are carrying an STD may unwittingly spread the disease to different partners.

Free or reduced-price testing would give students greater sexual health autonomy. Without high fees hanging over students, they will be more likely to take control of their health and contribute to an overall healthier community. This could also help students move away from being reliant on their parents to cover testing, which can be dangerous or problematic for students, especially as HIV and other STDs are still stigmatized.

GW’s top priority should be maintaining and promoting the health and safety of all students – and that includes their sexual health, too. Making STD testing free would increase the number of students getting tested regularly and improve sexual health in the GW community. Finances or fears for personal privacy should never be a barrier to healthy living, and GW should recognize this fact and adjust its practices accordingly.

Jack Murphy, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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