FREE SPEECH ZONE | A Public Health Call to Action


This January, the Minnesota Department of Health released new figures indicating an alarming increase in HIV infections among young Minnesotans. The number of new HIV cases in the state increased by 13 percent in 2009, marking a 17-year high1. This news comes on the heels of annual increases in the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI) over the past decade, a public health crisis for which the state of Minnesota must develop a strategic statewide solution.

In fact, last April’s Minnesota STI Report showed the highest level of infections ever, with over 17,000 cases reported.

The increase in HIV infection is a serious public health problem, and it is essential that Minnesota’s public health community is supported in its efforts to address these rising rates of HIV and STIs. The newly released HIV figures demonstrate, at a minimum, the need for a coordinated, comprehensive, statewide plan and education campaign that will improve the public health of all Minnesotans.

The next report on STIs is slated to come out in a few weeks, and if past trends hold true, we expect yet another increase in the number of young people that have acquired an STI. It’s time for action and Planned Parenthood can’t do it alone.

Planned Parenthood calls on the State of Minnesota to enact a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to reducing the state’s rising STI rates, including HIV infection. These rising rates of infection are a significant health threat to Minnesotans. We urge the state to take the following steps to strengthen its prevention efforts:

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1.) Provide funding to address the unmet public health need for STI testing and treatment. There is currently no dedicated state funding for screening and treatment of chlamydia and gonorrhea infections.

2.) Require the Minnesota Department of Health to implement an HIV and STI public education campaign. Community education efforts must include information on the prevalence and transmission of STIs and HIV.

3.) Direct the Minnesota Department of Health to complete an assessment of the necessary steps required to significantly reduce the state’s STI rates within five years.

4.) Direct the Minnesota Department of Health to determine the total annual cost to the state’s health care system of STIs, treated and untreated, occurring in adolescents and young adults.

5.) Provide for school-based, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education programming that would offer young people the information and means to protect themselves.

More than 94% of Planned Parenthood’s 64,000 patients are women, the majority of whom are young adults, and 19% of whom are from communities of color. This population – female patients aged 26 and younger – are at the greatest risk of acquiring an STI. Planned Parenthood currently administers more than

61,000 STI tests annually, including HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and HPV, among others.

Every day, in communities across the state, we work to stem this epidemic through affordable, accessible health care. We complement these clinical efforts with evidence-based, culturally relevant, and age-appropriate sex education programs. Our comprehensive sex education programming includes strong, clear messages about abstinence as well as medically accurate information about reproductive health, contraceptive methods, and responsible decision making. PPMNS currently offer 11 education programs for parents, youth, and families.

As a public health provider, we feel obligated to speak out on this issue and work toward solutions to reverse the epidemic that is underway. It’s critical that the state and the health care community work together to reverse these rising rates. It is time for the state of Minnesota to commit to helping young people build healthier, brighter futures.

Sarah Stoesz is the President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota