Australian government to pay young people to get STI tests

In 2009, there were 63, 000 new Chlamydia infections reported in Australia. For a country with a population of 21 million, that’s no small sum. In response to the problem, the government of one Australian state has announced a pilot program in which young people (age 16-30) will be paid a small sum when they get tested for the STI at a pharmacy. The program, run by the government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) will also pay the pharmacies for their trouble.

The program is the joint effort of The University of Canberra, the Australian National University and ACT Health. Its proponents say they hope to raise awareness of the importance of STI testing, especially for those STIs that, like Chlamydia, have no visible symptoms but potentially disastrous consequences if left untreated.

While it’s only in the pilot stages, and in Australia’s smallest state, the program is being touted as a long-term cost saving measure. Chlamydia, left untreated, can cause so many health problems later in life – in Australia, it is reportedly responsible for two-thirds of cases of tubal infertility and one in three cases of ectopic pregnancy – and those health problems cost a lot more than $20 to treat. If it’s diagnosed and treated early, Chlamydia poses less of a risk and is less likely to be unwittingly transmitted to a person’s sexual partners. Because the health problems that case arise when Chlamydia is left untreated are so expensive to treat, the program is a small and early investment in long-term health.

This is what it looks like when a government makes, and urges its citizens to make, a long-term investment in sexual health. In order to do that, the government has to admit that yes, teenagers have sex, and no, they don’t deserve ectopic pregnancy as punishment. Yes, teenagers have sex, and yes, there are healthy and responsible ways for them to do that. No, shaming them with fear-tactic educational programming in schools won’t make teen sex, or STIs, go away. Imagine how a similar program could improve women’s lives here in the US. Imagine if the US government were spending a little bit of money on STI testing instead of pouring it into abstinence-only sex education that leaves teenagers in the dark about sexual health. Just imagine…

Thanks to my mom for the tip!

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