Just because Magic Johnson looks good, it doesn’t mean he’s not HIV positive anymore. And even if you are symptom-free, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Fred Evans, Community Health Coordinator for Fremont Community Health Services, Inc., said there is a serious issue with HIV in Minneapolis. “Some of the problem lies with young people just not knowing the disease is still there,” he said. “There’s a lack of information about the disease itself. And social networking has made it easier for people to connect.”
Evans said that while HIV is a major concern, two other diseases, gonorrhea and chlamydia, are at epidemic proportions in Minneapolis.
Fremont Clinics have three locations, two in Northeast (Sheridan Clinic, at 13th and University avenues NE, and the Central Avenue Clinic, 2610 Central Ave. NE) and one in North, 3300 Fremont Ave. N. Evans said clinic workers visit area high schools, such as Edison, with information on STDs and family planning. While the North Side clinic is more focused on getting the word out about STDs, the Northeast clinics have launched a family planning component and offer a walk-in clinic Mondays, 4-8 p.m. at Sheridan and Thursdays, 1-5 p.m. at the Central Avenue Clinic.
Terra Carey, family planning coordinator, said men and women who use the walk-in clinics can meet with patient advocates (if they have no insurance), health educators and providers.
Often, she said, “They can get a physical, get what they need, and be out the door.” Educators talk to patients about different methods of birth control, she added, which include birth control pills, the ring – which is inserted vaginally and worn for three weeks at a time – or shots, which last for three months. Providers usually encourage patients to use two methods (for instance, a condom and the pill), to prevent both pregnancy and STDs.
Kerry said that people who use the Northeast walk-in family planning clinics can also be tested for STDs during those hours, or any hours the clinics are open.
Seen on da Streets
On the North Side, Fremont clinic staff say they work aggressively to get its target population – young black men – educated and tested for STDs.
How aggressively? How about walking up to someone on the street and asking him to pee in a cup?
Community Health Educator Desmond Grady does just that, as part of the “Seen on da Streets” initiative called Put it in a Cup, co-sponsored by the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support, Fremont Clinic and Teen Age Medical Service (TAMS). Grady said he approaches young men bearing gifts (condoms and information) and opening with a joke, maybe something sports-related.
“I show them color photographs of what the disease can look like. That usually gets their attention. I ask them if they want to be tested.” Often, he is successful – although he said it works better when the young men are alone, as opposed to in a group. “They take the cup and go down an alley or behind a garage. I’m not looking for anybody to get an indecent exposure charge. I tell them, if you feel a tingle or have a discharge, get it checked out.” He said that often, the youths will tell him they already know everything. “But they don’t know you can have it without knowing it, and how contagious it is. There’s a lot of groupie sex out here. They think oral sex is safe.”
Evans said that’s not true: sexual diseases can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
According to Seen on da Streets information, the outreach is most often conducted where younger men, ages 15 to 20, congregate: city parks, neighborhood store parking lots, alternative schools, community agencies and barber shops. The population is considered high risk; 95 percent of the more than 8,000 young men contacted in the last three years reported being sexually active, and 71 percent reported that they had had multiple sexual partners in the past six months. Many said they didn’t use condoms and had never been tested for an STD.
In Minneapolis, African Americans’ gonorrhea and chlamydia rates are higher than those for Caucasians, American Indians, Hispanics, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. While Caucasians came in second highest, their numbers for chlamydia were below 600 a year and below 300 a year for gonorrhea. African American rates were between 1,200 and 1,400 a year for chlamydia and between 600 and 800 a year for gonorrhea.
Two weeks ago, the Minnesota Department of Health released numbers showing a 13 percent increase in new HIV infections in the state, the biggest increase in 17 years. Evans said that health educators lost a lot of ground under federal government “abstinence-only” policies, which began in the Clinton administration and continued, more extensively, in the Bush administration.
“That was palatable for some parents and school administrators, teaching kids to just say no,” Evans said, “but it left young people uneducated about birth control and disease prevention. Chlamydia and gonorrhea have been on the rise in the last 10 years.”
Talking about sex is difficult, he added: “We don’t want to talk about sexuality amongst ourselves, and especially not with young people.
“Our chlamydia numbers in North Minneapolis are off the charts,” he said. “It’s transmitted through sexual contact. It’s a treatable disease. Another thing we’re seeing is herpes. People think, from seeing drug ads on television, that it is no big deal. The messages are that you can have a good life and still have herpes.”
Evans said that although STDs are at epidemic proportions, they don’t seem to merit the advertising campaigns that drove the nation-wide swine flu messages. “We haven’t seen the worst of the HIV numbers yet. There’s a rise in heroin use in the Twin Cities. We have the highest potency of the drug in the country. The Minnesota AIDS Project is still giving away free needles.” (HIV/AIDS can also be transmitted when an infected drug user shares needles.)
Fremont Clinics have co-sponsored music events with TAMS in the last two years to get the word out about sexual health. Staff created a CD with positive messages on it and has online Facebook, My Space, and Twitter sites. They do outreach at Patrick Henry, North, and Edison high schools in conjunction with school-based health clinics. Recent studies show, according to Seen on da Streets numbers, that since the project started, the number of young men who say they have had an STD test has gone up 43 percent.
“At this time, we’re looking for funding,” Evans said. “This program has been around five years and is part of the community. People expect it to be here. We’ve been having success with our walk-in clinics. We’re probably at 11,000 contacts a year at all the clinics.” Walk-in STD testing at Fremont Clinic, 3300 Fremont Ave. N., a block north of Lowry Avenue N., is from 1-4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Evans can be reached at 612-287-2423 (direct), 612-588-9411 (the clinic) or 612-490-0209 (cell) or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. The Sheridan clinic number is 612-362-4111. The Central Avenue Clinic number is 612-781-6816. A link to Fremont’s website can be found here.