According to the D.C. Department of Health, a program that began last year at eight Washington D.C. high schools found 13 percent of 3,000 students tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease – gonorrhea and chlamydia being the most prevalent. Even more shocking? Half of the cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia in D.C. are found in teenagers.
The results of a 2007 survey by the D.C. public school system also provided some troubling numbers. Out of the 12,000 students that attend public school in D.C., 60 percent of public high school students reported being sexually active and 20 percent of those students reported having sex with at least four partners. 30 percent of middle school students reported having sex, and 12 percent of those students said they had three or more partners.
To help put this in perspective, a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in four girls between the ages of 14 and 19 has an STD in the United States – that’s 26 percent or 3.2 million teenage girls. Forty percent of the girls reported having sex. HPV (human papillomavirus) was found to be the most common infection followed by chlamydia and the herpes simplex virus. According to Avert.org, STD statistics frequently show an uneven gender distribution, typically with a higher rate among females than males.
As a response to these alarming findings and as an expansion of last year’s program, D.C. will now offer STD testing to all high school students for the upcoming school year. First, the students are required to attend a lecture about sexually transmitted diseases. They can then choose whether they would like to provide a urine sample for testing.
The D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a non-profit dedicated to solving public policy problems in D.C., praises the program in a new report. They commend it as a step forward in decreasing the city’s AIDS rate, which has now reached about 3 percent and is the highest in the country, according to the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration.
Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed tells the Washington Post:
“The program tells us that a lot of students in the public school system are engaging in unsafe sex…if 13 percent of these students are testing positive for STDs, those same kids could get HIV. A lot needs to be done to get the message out to the schools… and this very high STD rate is an indication that what we’ve been doing is not effective.”
This program allows D.C. to join the increasing number of cities that provide STD testing for high school students.