By Noah Hughes-Dunn
Young people in our nation’s capital are diagnosed with HIV at almost twice the national rate, according to data from the DC Department of Health. Of the 368 diagnoses made in 2017, 41% were youth between the ages of 13 and 24. Additionally, city-wide rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia infections are skyrocketing, with young people between the ages of 15 and24 accounting for a third of new gonorrhea cases, and 52% of new chlamydia cases.
All too often, young people feel uncomfortable talking to their parents or other adults about sex. When these conversations do happen, the focus is usually on abstinence, rather than the ways in which youth can protect themselves while sexually active. This gap in communication adds to the stigma around sexual health, and robs young people of the non-judgmental support they need to thrive.
The Health Promotions team at LAYC is bridging the gap by embracing a sex-positive approach to HIV, STI, and pregnancy testing. We know that youth will ultimately make their own decisions, so our goal is to equip them with the knowledge and tools to make healthier, more informed choices.
Testing services, offered through LAYC’s Counseling, Treatment, Referral and Linkage (CTRL) program, are uniquely accessible to young people because they are offered within the safe and comfortable space of our youth center. Our services are offered on a regular basis, are completely free and confidential; we never ask for ID or insurance. Youth who visit the center for testing can expect to be seen promptly by a testing counselor who is close to their age and understands how to relate to young people.
“I like the consistency of the testing services at LAYC. I know when and where I can get tested, and I feel safe with the staff. They treat me as a person, rather than a number on a chart and that makes me feel more comfortable opening up about my sexual practices, and receiving feedback.” – Anonymous, 24
LAYC’s CTRL team reaches the most underserved youth in our community. Our mobile testing unit (pictured) allows us to offer our services anywhere in the city, and to young people experiencing domestic violence, homelessness, and even human trafficking. Furthermore, our testing services often facilitate connections for youth to LAYC’s other programs and resources.
This past year, LAYC staff tested 1,170 individuals; only Whitman-Walker Health, a federally qualified health center specializing in HIV care, tested more individuals. LAYC staff completed 692 HIV tests, identified 5 HIV positive individuals, and linked them to life-saving care. We completed 1,035 tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea, identified 60 positive chlamydia cases and 15 positive gonorrhea cases, and made sure everyone who tested positive was linked to treatment. We also completed 213 pregnancy tests, identified 15 young pregnant women, provided them counseling, and connected them to additional services and resources.
Here at LAYC, we invest in our youth because we believe they represent a brighter future. With each conversation and test that we complete we make our community safer, and empower a diverse population of youth to successfully transition to adulthood.
Mark your calendars for LAYC’s remaining February testing events:
2/21/18 – Testing @ Washington English Center’s Community Services and Health Fair
2/26/18 – Testing @ LAYC Career Academy Public Charter School
2/27/18 – Testing @ Woodrow Wilson High School