Fighting back against the rise of sexually transmitted diseases in Alaska, one organization is using unconventional methods to get people's attention -- and there's one group in particular it's targeting.
Although state health officials have frequently spoken about STDs, they acknowledge that not everyone is hearing the message. That's why they're using social media, radio ads, and an at-home STD testing kit to reach Alaska's youth and address the underlying problem -- Alaska's high STD rates.
Using the mantra that knowledge is power, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium's HIV/STD prevention program and its I Know Mine website are trying to do a better job of reaching people who are at risk of catching those diseases. Their efforts to date feature eye-catching video, as well as creative radio/online ads on venues such as audio-streaming website Pandora.
"The gonorrhea increase shows that obviously, we still have a lot of work to do -- and we still need to make sure that we address different people, because it affects everybody," said Connie Jessen, the HIV/STD prevention program's senior program manager. "We've had quite a few chlamydia (cases), a couple of gonorrhea and lots of (trichomoniasis) positives and they are scattered around the state."
Faced with a geographically diverse pool of potential patients, the program is pushing resources and a free home STD testing kit to give Alaskans more access to tools without making them feel isolated or embarrassed.
Jessen says it's really easy to get the STD testing kit at home. Once a sample is collected, it's returned using an envelope with prepaid postage. From actual ordering to receiving test results, the average wait time is about two weeks.
"I think we need to do the same thing with HIV testing, I think we need to do the same thing with STD testing," Jessen said. "We just need to take away this feeling that there's something that you did wrong and it's stigmatizing, and I think once we accomplish that it will be easier for people to seek help."
Jessen says STD rates among Alaska's youth -- including more than 80 percent of the state's chlamydia cases -- underline the importance of getting more people tested and treated. The free test, as well as free condoms and a free text messaging question service, is open to all Alaskans.