On Wednesday March 23, Brock will be hosting an STI testing event in the Sean O’Sullivan theatre, where students can go for free and confidential STI testing, as well as free pizza and giveaways.
One of the goals of the event is to emphasize that STI testing is not only free and confidential, but also easy, convenient and extremely important. Students do not have to bring a health card, so the testing is completely free to anyone. The event is being run by Brock Student Health Services (SHS) in partnership with Niagara Region Public Health to raise awareness and advocate for better sexual health practices.
Not only is the testing itself free of charge, treatment for some STIs (including chlamydia and gonorrhea) is also available for free in the province of Ontario. Therefore, even if someone has a positive result at the testing event, they will not have to worry about money, as treatment will also be free.
This event is also important because rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea have been increasing in the Niagara region, and a lot of people are not aware of this fact. Sarah Burciul, Health Promoter for Niagara Region Public Health said that this increase is, to an extent, because a lot of people don’t realize that the infections can be asymptomatic, or that regular testing is important even when people do not experience symptoms.
“Rates have been increasing in the Niagara region, especially with young people,” said Burciul. “One of the things about these infections is that many people have no signs or symptoms. You could have and be spreading them without even knowing it. We encourage regular screening because these STIs can be non-symptomatic.”
Julie Fennell, Health Promotion Educator for SHS, said that one of the ways that the event hopes to encourage regular and consistent testing for sexually active students is by emphasizing how easy it is to get tested.
“We want students to realize how easy and non-invasive testing is,” said Fennell. “We’re excited to increase awareness. We want students to know that, even if they can’t come to the event, they can always come to Student Health Services, where testing is still easy and confidential.”
Melodie Shick-Porter, Director of SHS, also said that a lot of people don’t realize that these infections can have serious consequences, and need to be treated as soon as possible in order to minimize the risk of these consequences. She said that they have the potential to lead to infertility for both men and women, and that it is therefore extremely important to get tested for them.
Gonorrhea in particular is a concern, as it is increasingly becoming antibiotic-resistant. While it is still treatable, and people are encouraged to get tested so that they can receive appropriate treatment, it is becoming increasingly harder to treat, leading to some cases of what some are calling “super gonorrhea.”
Decreasing the spread of STIs through regular testing, proper treatment and proper use of protection has the potential to help significantly in preventing gonorrhea from becoming harder and harder to treat.
Shick-Porter said that, in addition to increasing awareness about testing and treatment, the event will also be a chance to talk to students about condom use. She said that, in a recent survey of Brock students, 45.1 per cent of students who had vaginal sex within the past 30 days said that they did not use a condom. That means that nearly half of sexually-active Brock students, in the course of a month, have at least one unprotected sexual encounter. Student Health Services therefore intends to use this testing event as an opportunity to stress the importance of condom use.
Shick-Porter said that the ultimate goals of the event are to increase awareness and knowledge about sexual health, and to reduce the stigma surrounding STI testing by helping students realize how important, confidential and easy testing is. She said that SHS really cares about student health and safety, and wants to make sure that students know that.
“It’s important for students to know that SHS cares about them,” said Shick-Porter. “We want students to know if they have these STIs, and to be able to get properly treated for them if they do. We want them to know that treatment and testing are easy. Whether you come to this event or come to SHS any other time, it’s still as easy as peeing in a cup.”