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The Rutgers School of Nursing launched a $12.5 million initiative to improve sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing.
The initiative aims to improve testing for those at risk for common STIs, which can increase the risk of transmitting and acquiring human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to a press release. The initiative will work with nine total health centers, located in Florida, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.
The program is a three-year agreement headed by the Rutgers School of Nursing’s Fran?ois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center. The FXB Center aims to reduce health disparities by eliminating barriers to high-quality health services for vulnerable populations.
Rutgers is joined by Howard University, Louisiana State University and the University of Florida, which are all collaborators on the project, according to the press release.
Florida, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. were chosen due to their extremely high rates of STI diagnoses.
In 2016, the District of Columbia had the highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, as well as holding the title for the nation’s highest prevalence of HIV, according to the release. The lack of access to high-quality care is a driver for the program, as well as a cause of high diagnosis rates in the selected areas.
“Despite national recommendations, routine STI testing and prevention are often lacking in primary care for people living with HIV,” said John Nelson, the principal investigator of the project.
The problem is not solely isolated in the states chosen. Syphilis and gonorrhea cases rose by 76 and 67 percent nationwide, respectively, from 2013 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
New Jersey itself faces STI issues. The CDC reported cases of STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — rose by 25 percent in the Garden State from 2012 to 2016. In Middlesex County, STI rates increased 37 percent during the same time, according to NJ Advance Media.
Rutgers is one of the most sexually active campuses in the U.S., according to The Daily Targum. Second to Temple University, Rutgers students were found to have 9.33 sexual partners on average.
Nelson and the FXB Center will use capacity building activities and technical assistance to promote the usage of targeting strategies at each of the nine health centers. Along with other collaborators, the two will conclude the project and publish a best-practices toolkit for national use.
Nelson said the program comes at the right time.
“Now, with the ongoing opioid epidemic, risky behaviors associated with substance use, development of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea and decreased condom use by high-risk individuals, we’re facing a perfect storm related to the spread of common STIs,” he said.