A new survey from Family Planning shows that in a health system under pressure, we need to remove barriers for people getting STI tests and information and ensure women and girls are not overlooked in STI prevention initiatives.
The survey of over 1,000 people – 84% of whom were women and girls – found that 63% of participants had never had a health practitioner talk to them about getting an STI test, unless they brought it up or had symptoms. This rises to 77% among 16-19-year-olds, and over half of 20-24-year-olds had also never been asked.
“We know that health practitioners in primary care are already under extreme pressure, with staff shortages and high demand for services,” said Dr Tania Huria, Director of Hauora Māori and Equity at Family Planning. “Supporting people to self-test is part of the solution because people can manage their own health and get a test quickly, without needing to wait for an appointment.”
“The STI self-testing that Family Planning offers is popular with young people, who are at greatest risk of STIs. These sorts of options should be expanded, but we also need to make sure there is adequate follow-up where someone tests positive.”
Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond says the survey findings confirm that women and girls must be included in initiatives to expand STI testing and treatment options and health promotion.
The survey also found that 47% of participants were asked about STI tests at the time of a cervical screen.
“This was a surprise to us, but it makes sense given the way the old tests were done, that if you were having a screen, you might as well get a swab for STIs while you are there,” said Ms Edmond. “With cervical screening changing to every five years, and with a self-testing option, it is important that we don’t lose the opportunity to test for STIs and develop other opportunities for opportunistic testing. Making sure these include options that focus on the specific needs of women and girls is critical.”
Over 85% of people responding to the survey felt that STI information should be shared through relationships and sexuality education in school.
The survey also showed that school was a critical place to learn about sexual health, and how to have healthy relationships.