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UCLA Planned Parenthood chapter seeks to offer free STI testing during Sex Week

The Ashe Patient Portal is pictured. UCLA’s Planned Parenthood chapter partnered with the Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center to offer a week of free sexually transmitted disease testing for students. (Constanza Montemayor/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Anna Johnson

April 4, 2023 11:39 p.m.

UCLA’s chapter of Planned Parenthood is partnering with the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center to provide a week of free sexually transmitted infections testing for students.

The testing week is tentatively planned for April 24-28, which is also Sex Week at UCLA, a week of programming and events targeting sexual health education and awareness on campus, sponsored by the UCLA Sexual Health Coalition. Students will be able to receive tests from the Ashe Center to screen for gonorrhea, chlamydia, human immunodeficiency virus and syphilis.

Yajing Feng, the founder and director of the UCLA Planned Parenthood chapter – which is a committee of the Student Wellness Commission – said she launched the initiative in response to peer feedback about the high expenses to receive care at the Ashe Center.

SWC Planned Parenthood received $50,000 from the USAC surplus fund to pay for the program this year. Feng added that any excess funds not used by students for STI testing will go towards funding antibiotics or other treatments for students who test positive.

“I wanted to provide something that was accessible and that promotes health equity and not just equality for students on campus,” said Feng, a second-year cognitive science student.

Feng added that she thinks the initiative will make STI testing more accessible, particularly for students without the UC Student Health Insurance Plan who may not have time or transportation to travel off campus for alternative care.

Dr. Jesse Clark, an associate professor-in-residence of infectious diseases said widely accessible STI testing is important for college-aged individuals who are often becoming sexually active and experimenting for the first time.

STI rates have increased over the last few years because of a lack of resources and testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

“The investment that you make in terms of testing one person actually has a tremendous payback in terms of the fact that you’re limiting transmission,” Clark said.

The initiative also aims to destigmatize STI testing, according to the proposal presentation. Lauren Heiberg, the chair of the Student Health Advisory Committee and co-chair of the Sexual Health Coalition, said students may feel embarrassed or not want their families to know that they are getting STI testing. To help with this issue, test results will be sent securely through the Ashe student portal and will not be posted to students’ BruinBill, she added.

Clark, a specialist in HIV and STIs, added that promoting a nonjudgmental culture surrounding STIs is important to reduce the anxiety that people have about them.

“Just because you have gonorrhea doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person,” Clark said. “It doesn’t mean that you’re promiscuous. It doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong. It’s an infection – you acquired an infection, and you should treat it.”

Another major aim of this proposal is ensuring continued care for students who test positive for an STI, according to the proposal presentation. Feng and Heiberg said this key factor led to their decision to partner with the Ashe Center, which will provide support and continuity of care for students who test positive.

Heiberg added that UCLA used to offer free annual STI testing during Sex Week but put the program on hold during the pandemic.

Heiberg said the committee would like to make the event annual again, but securing reliable funding is difficult. The cost of the full STI panel adds up to $300 per student, according to the proposal presentation. However, SWC Planned Parenthood plans to circulate more information about STI testing and may try to work with the Undergraduate Students Association Council to have STI testing vans come to campus regularly, Heiberg said.

Clark said STI testing is often provided by the public health system, but LA doesn’t have the same system to work with the issue as many other major cities. Therefore, private and volunteer organizations have to pick up the slack, he added, which results in higher out-of-pocket costs for people getting tested.

Heiberg added that students can get involved by getting tested, sharing information with their peers and attending events occurring during Sex Week to promote sexual health.

“We want to hear from students,” Heiberg said. “We want to hear what health services you want on campus, and there is funding available from places like USAC – we just need to know what to ask for.”

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