How to observe STI Awareness Month

Are you part of a local health department and, as such, dreading STI Awareness Month? Traditionally, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) have been a thorny issue, and the debate is not an etymological one; as in, “is an STI the same as an STD?” (it is). Sexual health –or lack thereof- has always been considered a taboo by society at large, but isn’t that all the more reason to speak openly about it? Especially now that we are more than a decade into the 21st century, and countries like Australia are recognizing a third gender. It is indeed a brave new world out there.

First of all, you’re not alone; you have the entire CDC on your side. Nonetheless, there isn’t a whole lot you can do by yourself. So the first step is to identify and contact likeminded individuals and organizations in the community who are interested in planning and/or hosting STI Awareness Month activities. Start with hospitals, clinics, and family planning clinics, then move on to youth serving organizations, HIV/AIDS planning groups, chemical health programs and pharmaceutical company representatives. You may also ask existing community or healthcare worker groups that your department currently serves on to help promote STI Awareness Month.

It may prove to be a bit more difficult, but you should also try to contact churches, temples, mosques and synagogues and ask them if they could please place brochures and fact sheets in their display racks and bulletin board. There are many helpful sources where you can find posters, fact sheets, and brochures. Moreover, you can ask schools and businesses to distribute STI materials to promote STI Awareness Month. Additionally, submit a proclamation to your mayor or county board letting them know that your department recognizes National STD Awareness Month; write letters to local newspapers stressing the need for open discussion of STIs –be sure to add STI statistics in your area-; display informational material at public events and settings; deliver referral listings of local STI testing sites to healthcare providers, clinics, corrections programs, chemical health programs and agencies serving teens and young adults; and so on.

Part of establishing connections involves securing funds, donations, and other necessary resources. But you will be providing something in return as well; namely, logistical planning and management. Devise a schedule with specific activities and responsibilities. Such activities may include STI awareness-raising seminars, DVD showings, and distribution of materials at schools, colleges, places of work, religious establishments, and healthcare settings, as well as hosting public educational events with local speakers.

In addition to whatever local resources you may have at your disposal, you can also resort to national resources including the American Sexual Health Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Prevention Information Network, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. You can also make use of hotlines like the CDC Nat’l Prevention Information Network (1 -800-458-5231, 1-800-243-7012 TTY) and the National STD and AIDS Hotlines (1-800-CDC-INFO, 1-888-232-6348 TTY).