BY ANNIE KINNIBURGH
There’s nothing like a bad cold to ruin your day. And there’s nothing like HIV to ruin your life.
The UMW Health Center is prepared to give you a tissue, and even some antibiotics. But when it comes to a potential STD, students are on their own.
The UMW Women’s Center advertises STD testing, and it sounds like the perfect fast and easy way to get checked out. As it turns out, though, “STD testing” means testing for two possible infections, chlamydia and gonorrhea, as part of a standard $55 check-up, thrown in with a pap smear and a three-month supply of birth control.
There are no tests for AIDS, syphilis or HPV. Genital herpes, which infects a fifth of the national population, is left off the list as well. According to the American Social Health Association, nearly 90 percent of people infected with genital herpes don’t know it—making the test to find it all the more important.
But students concerned about herpes or AIDS won’t find help at the UMW Health Center. Instead, they’ll be redirected to the Fredericksburg Health Department, which offers a full battery of STD tests. The tests are free, which is good news for a college student’s wallet, but the actual process can be a major drain on time and energy.
Students wanting to take advantage of the Health Department’s free clinic have only three hours a week in which to do so: Mondays and Thursdays between 12:30 and 2 p.m. Only 25 people will be tested per day, and the clinic is popular and crowded, so arriving early is a must.
Even so, it may take multiple visits before the testing actually occurs. And it can take up to two weeks to get the results—which can be a very long time if you’re waiting to have sex or having doubts after the fact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all newly acquired STDs occur in people between the ages of 18 and 25. Colleges are well aware of this fact.
For a fee, the University of Virginia offers a wide range of STD tests, including those for HIV and HPV. Virginia Commonwealth University does the same.
It seems about time for UMW to catch on and realize that the Health Center needs to make STD testing a greater priority. This means allocating funds and facilities that would allow for a broader spectrum of tests.
If the University can afford extensive expansion, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that it can afford the lab equipment for viral cultures and antibody tests.
Right now, students have to choose between insufficient and inconvenient testing for diseases that could affect them for the rest of their lives.
It’s up to us to take responsibility for our own sex lives and their potential results, but when doing so involves a commute and hours of waiting, a busy college student may just throw caution to the wind and hope for the best.
Our sexual health is just as important as our physical health, and STDs are too big a health risk for UMW to let them go undetected and untreated.