Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where do STD Prevention and Technology go from here?

In order to successfully prevent a disease you have to be able to communicate the methods of prevention to a large audience and convince that audience that prevention of this disease is important. As our world changes, the means of communicating to different populations changes too and this is where technology comes in to play.

In the past, when a person wanted information on an STD, they basically had two options: ask a friend/family member or ask a health professional. But, a lot of people aren't comfortable going face to face with another person and discussing something so closely related to their sexual activity and unfortunately for society, this wariness of talking about STDs is causing a lot of problems with preventing it.   Thankfully, today, most people have access to a new tool and that is the internet. The internet has provided an anonymous way for people to gain information about an STD. A person can find an overview of STDs including symptoms and ways to get tested. They can also find statistics on a disease in their area which could make them more inclined to utilize prevention methods.
Not only does the internet provide prevention information, it also gives resources for people who have already contracted an STD. There are online support groups and resources for finding doctors. The internet does a good job of making sure no one feels alone with their condition and as stigmatized as society might make them feel, an online community of people dealing with the same thing will help that person feel included again.

The internet also does a great job of connecting organizations who are attempting to prevent STDs in their communities. It is very important that these organizations can collaborate because each organization has access to a specific population but to prevent STDs all populations need to be reached. For example, one organization might function within a church community while another might cater to transgender individuals. While these communities might have different needs the organizations serving them need to be working together since both groups will interact in society. It is also important that different organizations can connect so that they can share different methods of outreach, education, and prevention techniques with each other. If one organization finds that having people sign up for a mobile alert service that informs about free testing sites is an effective form of prevention, they can share that with another organization who might be able to utilize the same service with their population.

To get a field perspective on my topic I interviewed Denise Bellows from the Prevention Research Center in the School of Public Health.
 The mission of the PRC is to reduce health disparities in Maryland along the DC border. They attempt to do so by connecting the organizations in our area and "linking needs with resources." The PRC works with the Sexually Transmitted Infection Community Coalition of Metropolitan Washington, DC(STICC). They are working on ways to better communicate with the different organizations. I asked Denise how technology is helping the PRC reach its goals and she explained that technology comes in to play when trying to communicate with all the groups in the area. They also use technology to promote the work that they do including blogging through the School of Public Health's Healthy Turtle blog and posting pictures and videos of them doing their work. She also said that STICC uses a lot of technology to communicate including a facebook page and a website called is a website designed to allow groups to network and share information. It has features that allow for posting documents, creating events, and sharing calendars.

 Denise also mentioned email which she kind of jokingly questioned whether or not it was still considered technology. I feel that says something about where STD prevention is going in the future as far as technology. Organizations are no longer relying on a basic messaging platform but instead on interactive sites that focus on sharing an array of media and information. I think that if more people learn to utilize the tools available to them, we can be more effective at preventing all kinds of disease.

I also asked Denise if she saw any disadvantages of technology in her field. She explained that there were definitely some disadvantages and that the PRC actually conducted some focus groups on better ways to connect different STD prevention organizations. One of the ways proposed was creating a site like but the problem that organizations claimed to have was that they were often in the field and didn't always have access to the internet. In the future this problem may be alleviated by the increase of mobile internet use like smart phones but right now, not everyone has access to this kind of technology.

In the future, I see STD prevention moving even more into the digital world and I believe it will mostly be for the better. I think organizations dedicated to preventing STDs will be able to work together more effectively using technology and the populations they are trying to reach will have more technology available to them in order to access the information being provided by the organizations.

Interview with Denise:

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