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Ending jail STD screening foolish, costly

Monday, February 12, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by Steve Trombley, Mark Ishaug & Soo Ji Min
Letter to the Editor

Eliminating screening of young men at Cook County Jail for sexually transmitted diseases may save the county money in the short-term [''Ending jail STD tests could save county $800,000,'' news story, Feb. 1] but will cost millions of dollars in long-term care and lead to a devastating rise in STD infections.
According to Dr. Sergio Rodriguez, the recently laid-off medical director of Cermak Health Services, as many as one-third of all STD cases in Cook County were handled through the jail. This statistic is a testament to the success of Cook County Jail's STD screening program. When screening was implemented, the jail identified one in four cases of chlamydia, one in five cases of gonorrhea, and one in 10 cases of syphilis in Chicago annually.

The cost of screening for and providing STD prevention education and counseling is paltry compared to the cost of treating a disease that has progressed to a critical state. Individuals with STDs are three to five times more likely to contract HIV. The lifetime cost of treating this preventable disease is nearly $700,000 per person. With more than 1,000 new HIV infections in Chicago alone, cutting STD testing and counseling of individuals who are at highest risk for the disease is a shortsighted, costly and deadly miscalculation.

The loss of STD screening for high-risk individuals who lack regular medical care not only means that thousands of cases of life-altering STDs will go undetected, but also results in thousands of missed opportunities to educate and counsel detainees on disease prevention methods. This is critically important, as approximately 66 percent of jail detainees return to the community instead of going to prison. Without treatment and prevention education, individuals released with active STDs will put loved ones and family members at risk for infection, and we will begin to see infection rates soar.

Lack of STD testing in jails, the closing of community health clinics in resource-poor areas, and the scaling back of services at Cook County Hospital are creating a perfect storm for STD infection among our most vulnerable populations. We must not sacrifice the public's health for the sake of a balanced budget.

Steve Trombley, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area;

Mark Ishaug, executive director, AIDS Foundation of Chicago;

Soo Ji Min, executive director, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health

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