In April 2017, Georgetown University implemented a free and confidential screening for sexually transmitted infections. The screening, now offered once per semester, has had encouraging results. Over 70 people attended the April screening, and over 250 attended the one offered this November. This growth mostly is most likely the result of the administration’s expansion of services offered at the event. Last spring, only HIV testing was offered, but the screening has since been expanded to include testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
The demand for the screenings is clearly large already, and as Georgetown students increasingly expect such services, awareness and interest will only rise.
A free and confidential screening event once a semester is an excellent start, but offering screenings only once a semester constrains the number of students they can accommodate. Georgetown should offer free, confidential and comprehensive STI screenings at least three times a semester to demonstrate its true commitment to student sexual health on campus.
STI testing is vital to student health care. Half of all sexually active individuals are expected to contract an STI by age 25, and half of new STI cases that occur each year affect people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the American Sexual Health Association.
Even with these staggering statistics, ASHA reports only 12 percent of young people have been tested for STIs in the past year. Undiagnosed and untreated STIs can have serious health consequences, including an increased risk of pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancies and infertility.
Although the Student Health Center offers appointments for STI testing and treatment, these appointments can often be far from free — and far from confidential.
The cost of a comprehensive STI screening at the Student Health Center can vary greatly depending on a student’s insurance coverage. With university health insurance, an STI screening appointment only requires a $10 copay, but all other insurance plans have their own associated costs.
Beyond the cost of a screening at the Student Health Center, many students may not want to get tested there for privacy reasons. If students are on their parents’ health insurance, they risk their parents learning about their sex lives through a health care bill in the mail. As a result, students may choose to maintain confidentiality at the Student Health Center by paying out of pocket. However, paying without insurance coverage can cost hundreds of dollars and is thus not an option for many students.
Alternatively, students can get reduced price or even free screenings at various locations around Washington, D.C., such as Whitman-Walker, a community health center, and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan D.C.
However, the best, most convenient option for students is to get tested for free on campus. To maximize the safety and health of the student body, Georgetown should expand the number of free and confidential screening events offered each semester.
Moreover, Georgetown must host STI screenings with a variety of dates and times. With only one free event per semester, there is a significant possibility many Georgetown students — between classes, work and meetings — will not be able to attend because of other commitments. The Student Health Center should host numerous screenings per semester so as many students as possible can take full advantage of the offered service.
Student attendance also depends on robust advertising. As these events become more standardized, students will know to expect and look out for the screenings. Until then, STI screenings should get their own campuswide email, just as flu shots do.
This ask is far from extraordinary. Stanford University offers “free and anonymous HIV testing, counseling and education” for students every single weekday, according to its website. Having a few screenings per semester is easily achievable for the administration and is well worth the increased costs. Screenings can catch STIs early, before they become a serious problem. Prevention is much cheaper than the inevitable treatment costs of more serious STIs. More importantly, a knowledgeable student body will lead to a healthier student body.
Providing one free screening each semester is a gesture, but hosting multiple screenings demonstrates a true commitment to student health.
Talia Parker is a sophomore in the College. Let’s Talk About Sex(ual Health) appears online every other Thursday.