Community-based organizations that provide health services to gay men play a critical role in detecting and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, according to a report to be released tomorrow by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Magnet, a health center run by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in the city’s Castro district, along with five other community-based organizations across the country, provided data for a study of clinic-based testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia. The study suggests that community organizations detect thousands of cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia each year, and reach men who may not otherwise get tested at public clinics or by private physicians.
“Gay-focused community-based organizations typically do not require health insurance for access, are located in neighborhoods with many MSM (men who have sex with men), and provide culturally competent services for a historically stigmatized population,” the report says.
Because gonorrhea and chlamydia among gay and other MSM remain public health concerns and can increase the transmission of HIV, the study points to the need for strong partnerships between government and community organizations and calls for increased financial and technical support of local groups by public health departments.
“The findings of this CDC study make it clear that we need expanded STD screening and treatment, targeted services that also help prevent HIV in men who have sex with men,” said Mark Cloutier, CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “Magnet and similar community-based health centers are providing vital leadership in disease control and prevention among this highly vulnerable community.”
The CDC recommends at least yearly screening for rectal gonorrhea and chlamydia for men who have had receptive anal intercourse over the past year and annual testing for pharyngeal gonorrhea for men who have participated in receptive oral intercourse during the preceding year. More frequent testing is recommended for men who have multiple partners or have sex in conjunction with illicit drug use. However, studies show that a low percentage of sexually active gay men are screened at the minimum recommended frequency, at least for gonorrhea.
The study found that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s lack of approval for state-of-the-art, sensitive tests for rectal and pharyngeal screening hampers efforts to control the spread of gonorrhea in this population. As a result, most health-care providers only test for urethral infections with commonly available urine tests, and the largely asymptomatic rectal and pharyngeal infections go undiagnosed, increasing the risk of HIV transmission. The six organizations involved in the study are among the few in the country to conduct pharyngeal and rectal testing.
“At Magnet, we provide health information to our customers that is relevant to their sexual activity and offer access to appropriate testing and screening,” said Steve Gibson, director of Magnet. Specimens collected at Magnet are tested by the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Microbiology Laboratory.
In addition to Magnet, the study examined data from Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City, AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the Gay City Health Project in Seattle.
The report is part of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Series and can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/