Online kits could double STI testing among young people

Charlotte England

Offering e-STI kits in parallel with existing sexual health services could improve testing rates, suggests new research

Visiting a GUM clinic can range from an inconvenience to an ordeal, depending on your tolerance for stripping off in front of strangers, stirrups and swabs.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that research has found twice as many young people will take an ‘e-STI test’ ordered from the internet to test for gonorrhoea, HIV, syphilis or chlamydia in the comfort of their own home, compared to visiting a real-life clinic.

STIs remain a major problem in England, where 420,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2016, though this was a 4 per cent decline compared to 2015. They are particularly prevalent among 15 to 24-year-olds, nearly half of whom say they do not always use a condom with a new partner.

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Discreet kits could be a way to curtail the infection rates, according to research by two leading London universities. Kits are posted out along with information about sexual health and instructions to return samples by post. People then receive their results via text message. In a study of 2,000 young people from two south London boroughs, researchers found that offering the service nearly doubled the uptake of STI testing.

The findings are “very encouraging” said co-author Dr Paula Baraitser from King’s College London. “The results are very helpful to those of us who are developing new strategies to increase access to sexual health services,” she told Positive News. Baraitser added that she was pleased to see more people getting tested across the board, including among vulnerable groups.

The results are very helpful to those of us who are developing new strategies to increase access to sexual health services

But, amid concerns that e-STI testing could be overused as a way to cut costs in a cash-strapped NHS, she cautioned that online services should be part of “a comprehensive sexual health system”. Their use should always be linked to specialist services that should be offered face-to-face, she said.

Featured illustration: Give Up Art


This article is featured in issue 93 of Positive News magazine.

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