OPP Attends Symposium on African-American Women and the Increase in STDs

October 9, 2009

Representatives of CFI’s Office of Public Policy attended “The Cost of Silence: A Symposium on African-American Women and the Increase in STDs” at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference on September 25. This symposium, hosted by Representative Donna Edwards (D- MD) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America featured a panel discussion and a question and answer session. The Panelists present were Dr. Vanessa Cullins, Vice President of Medical Affairs for the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America, Dr. Donald Shell, the Heath Officer for Prince George’s Country, India Hay, a Youth Health Messenger for the Ophelia Egypt Program Center, and Reverend Tony Lee, Founder and Senior Pastor of the Community of Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church.


The symposium was an opportunity for the panelists to discuss actions that can be taken in order to decrease the number of women, particularly in the black community, who contract Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Dr. Shell stated that public health clinics are full and that the demand for treatment is exceeding the resources available. He also expressed the need for those attempting to prevent STIs to explore reasons for women not using protection. He listed abuse, rejection, fear, rape and abuse, and lack of self esteem as key reasons that women do not use protection when having recreational sex. According to Dr. Shell, the current public health structure is incapable of handling these emotional and societal aspects of sexual health, and that must change before progress can be made on this issue. In addition, he discussed the need for an increase of medically based social services that can provide a multifaceted approach to sexual health. He cited Adam’s House, a health and social support center for men in Maryland, as an example of a successful medically based social service provider.


Dr. Cullins agreed with Dr. Shell, and furthered this sentiment by advocating for a multi-prong approach to the problem of high STI rates. She mentioned the need for health care reform to include provisions for reproductive health that include preventative care and consultation. Other solutions proposed by Dr. Cullins include the development of combinations of community and medical programs that allow for easy access to resources, consumer incentives for preventative care, and an increase of dialogue about sex with the context of healthy relationships and safety. She argued that much of this dialogue should take place in schools and in the home using “teachable moments” in a child’s life to inform them about sexual topics in an age-appropriate manner.


Ms. Hay addressed her unique insight into issues surrounding informing youth about their health and positive sexual behaviors. She noted the influence of negative messages from the media and societal pressures as being key factors in the decisions of young people when it comes to safe sex. She emphasized the importance of acceptance rather than judgments when adults discuss sex with young people.


Rev. Lee discussed the duty religious communities have to keep their members healthy. He discussed various outreach programs his congregation has created, including safe sex outreach in dance clubs, HIV testing during church services, and domestic violence prevention. He also discussed the role of the media, and suggested that the progressive community as a whole do more to support artists that have positive, responsible messages. Finally, he re-emphasized the importance of self image, stating that if people have high self esteem, they will value themselves enough to protect themselves from STIs and other risks.