The News Star (Monroe, La.) (04.14.13)
Ouachita Parish has the highest rate of STDs in the state of Louisiana, and Louisiana ranks high among all the states for STDs. According to the Louisiana Office of Public Health STD/HIV Program’s 2011 Annual Report, the state has the highest rates of gonorrhea and of primary and secondary syphilis in the nation, and ranks third highest in chlamydia. When the Louisiana Office of Public Health STD/HIV Program report breaks down the numbers by Parishes, Ouachita Parish is one of seven in the state with the highest chlamydia rate, 1.040.9 per 100,000. Ouachita Parish is also one of six parishes with the highest gonorrhea rates at 376 per 100,000 according to the report. Only five area parishes were below the state average.
Although April is STD awareness month, Dr. Shelley Jones, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Region 8 director, stated that STD-related activities under the Office of Public Health STD/HIV Program are available year round. STD awareness materials and condoms are available at parish health units. Jones also mentioned that there are several high school-based centers in Region 8, and STD testing and treatment are available at Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe student health centers. She advised that because of the high rates of STDs, it would be wise to practice safe sex, but services are available at parish health units if an individual needs testing and treatment.
Gwen Guillory, preventive coordinator at GO CARE, a referral service that specializes in HIV, is aware of the STD and HIV statistics and wants to raise awareness of the importance of testing. Their slogan is “Get Tested for your community, for your partner for yourself.” She emphasized that abstinence is the best method of preventing STDs, but if people are sexually active, they must know how to prevent STDs.
GO CARE also operates a gay men’s wellness center funded by the Office of Public Health. Guillory explained that the service is free and offers STD screening, a physical, mental health assessment, and treatment. Guillory plans to involve churches and parents in an upcoming campaign. She states that the campaign aims to have zero new cases of HIV. For those who are already infected with HIV, the aim is to get them into care and on a treatment regimen to change their status to undetectable. Guillory commented that with services available parish- and statewide, it is important to know one’s sexual health because what you don’t know you transmit to your partner, and you may put yourself at risk for a more harmful, more serious STD.