By Erin Delmore
Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise, up 27 percent statewide over five years. Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey analyzed its own data and statistics from the Health Department between 2009 and 2014, the latest available. The group said budget cuts by Gov. Chris Christie are fueling the public health crisis.
“Back in 2010, Gov. Christie eliminated funding for family planning services from the New Jersey state budget. So this was a $7.5 million line item that went to vital preventative services, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS,” said Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey Communications Manager Casey Olesko.
Representatives here say that the organization has had to close down six health clinics in the state and curtail services and office hours at 14 others as a result of the budget cuts.
STD rates are also up nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Mark Martens is an OBGYN at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, and a former medical director for Planned Parenthood in Arkansas and Oklahoma. He sees another reason for the increase.
“Overall it’s the decrease in the amount of times that a woman’s health provider, whether it’s a doctor or nurse practitioner, sees a young woman,” he said. “We used to check pap smears on all women as soon as up to three years after they started having sex. The new recommendations are not to test anyone below 21, so we don’t catch most of the STDs. Half of the STDs are in women younger than 21.”
And, he says, half are detected during annual visits. Women are more likely than men to have an STD and not know it because the symptoms aren’t as severe. So while delayed testing is a boon for health care savings, Dr. Martens says it’s not doing patients any favors.
The state Department of Health said in an email that the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid through federal funding for the Affordable Care Act has benefited thousands of previously uninsured women. And that Christie’s most recent budget proposal includes $10.8 million for cancer screenings and $4.1 million for STD screening, education and clinical care. That’s a $600,000 increase over the current year’s budget.
In total, that’s $28 million for community health centers, including those that offer reproductive health services. The Health Department says more than 240,000 women — many of them low-income — are visiting the centers. And that number is growing.
“However, Planned Parenthood is the go-to, the most common clinic that women know about, so there’s going to need to be a lot of extra education in order to direct these women to these clinics if they’re going to rely on those to find these diseases,” Martens said.
He says with access to good antibiotics and good diagnostics, STD rates should be going down, not up.