In recognition of STD Awareness Month, the Health Department today unveiled a new social media ad campaign that will run until late May. The campaign targets young women and men who have sex with men, reminding them to get screened and receive treatment if needed for STDs. The digital campaign is rolling out alongside STD clinic enhancements that are expected throughout 2016 as part of Mayor de Blasio’s NYC Plan to End the AIDS Epidemic, and the administration’s commitment to increasing access to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases – including the continuing battle against hepatitis and syphilis infections throughout the city.
“We’re committed to promoting safer sex and offering affordable STD services for all New Yorkers,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “Getting tested regularly is part of a healthy and happy sex life, and I encourage New Yorkers to get screened for these fairly common infections. The only STD test you should worry about is the one you don’t take.”
“Readily available, high quality STD clinical services are an important avenue to ending the HIV epidemic in NYC. Unprotected sex is the primary route for the spread of HIV and other STDs,” said Dr. Susan Blank, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of STD Control & Prevention. “Bringing both areas of expertise and treatment capacity together in the same public facilities is indicative of the administration’s commitment to the health of New Yorkers. STD Awareness Month is a good time to remind New Yorkers to get tested for STDs and HIV. Sexually active New Yorkers – those with multiple partners and/or anonymous partners – are most at risk of infection, and should get tested more than once per year.”
In February, the Health Department announced that all STD clinics would offer services Monday through Friday, with Saturday hours available at the Riverside and Fort Greene locations. Expanding operations by 10 hours per week translates to an additional 5,000 more patient visits per year beyond the annual total of 80,000 visits. The STD clinics are open to all New Yorkers 12 years of age and older, on a walk-in basis, and provide care regardless of ability to pay and immigration status.
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The new service expansions are a component of the City’s effort to effectively end the AIDS epidemic. The NYC Plan to End the Epidemic includes a $23 million investment in Fiscal Year 2017 to increase HIV prevention and health care programming that will benefit nearly 200,000 New Yorkers per year when fully implemented. The plan aims to decrease HIV transmission in New York City by reducing the number of new annual HIV infections, part of a statewide goal of no more than 750 cases per year by 2020.
In 2015, there were 63,007 reported cases of chlamydia, with 60.8% of infections occurring among women. Between 2014 and 2015, gonorrhea cases increased by 20.8%. Primary and secondary syphilis cases increased by 13.5%. Male cases accounted for a majority of these increases. Most of these infections have no symptoms until irreversible damage occurs. For chlamydia and gonorrhea, untreated infections can lead to infertility, pain, ectopic pregnancy, or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Untreated syphilis can damage the heart, brain, and nervous system. However, these diseases are all easily treated when they are identified promptly. Certain groups are at higher risk for infection, such as men who have sex with men and women under 25.
In December 2015, the Health Department launched #PlaySure – a new HIV and STI prevention campaign to work in conjunction with End the Epidemic. #PlaySure was developed to send sex-positive and empowering messages to all New Yorkers regardless of their HIV status. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP), HIV treatment, and the NYC Condom together create a toolkit for HIV prevention and sexual health. #PlaySure aims to set aside fear, and replace it with communication, honesty, and the tools we know can stop HIV and STIs. The goal of this campaign is to reach all New Yorkers where they are and allows them to choose the HIV and STI prevention tools that work best for them, regardless of their HIV status.
To complement the new campaign, the Health Department also developed an innovative safer sex tool, the #PlaySure kit. This kit holds everything New Yorkers need to #PlaySure – condoms, lube, and the preferred prevention pill (PrEP, HIV meds, and/or birth control). These kits will be available for free at participating community organizations and at many community events throughout the year. Thanks to a collaboration between the Health Department and the Keith Haring Foundation, #PlaySure kits will also be accompanied by limited edition Keith Haring bags. Keith Haring was a New York City-based artist and social activist who we lost to AIDS-related complications twenty-five years ago, at the young age of 31.
New Yorkers should talk to their doctors about getting screened, and talk openly with their doctor about their sexual practices. For additional information about the city’s free STD clinics, please visit nyc.gov/stdclinic.
To find a location that offers free NYC Condoms, call 311 or visit nyc.gov/condoms. To learn more about condom use and sexual health or to download the free NYC Condom Finder, please visit facebook.com/NYCcondom.