Free, reduced cost sexual health services in Baltimore

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The National Coalition for Sexual Health, which consists of more than 50 of the nation’s top health and medical organizations, has issued a call-to-action in an effort to encourage African-Americans to take advantage of what they call historic levels of insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act and to access recommended preventive sexual services.

The coalition, which includes Planned Parenthood, the Center for Sexual Health at Morehouse School of Medicine and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, has recommended services that include the HPV vaccine, female contraceptives, pap smears and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.

“Individuals may be able to access services directly from their regular health care provider if they have one and, if an individual does not have a regular health care provider, there are many clinics in Baltimore that provide free or low cost services,” said Dr. Arik Marcell, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University divisions of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine Departments of Pediatrics and Population, Family & Reproductive Health.

“Individuals should learn about what types of sexual and reproductive health services they should get and talk to their primary care provider about it since some of the services may vary depending on the individual’s gender and age,” Dr. Marcell said.

In a news release, coalition officials noted that many African-Americans are not currently benefiting from important services, which are vital to the overall health and well-being of the community.

As an example, in 2013, only 34 percent of African-American girls and 16 percent of African-American boys received all three doses of the HPV vaccine, the only cancer prevention vaccine currently available.

Approximately 44 percent of sexually active African-American women ages 15 to 21 were not screened annually for Chlamydia, which, when left undiagnosed and untreated, is a leading cause of preventable infertility;

Also, more than a third of African-Americans have never been tested for HIV, even though it is recommended that all sexually active people be tested at least once, and that many be tested at least annually if they’re at increased risk.

“You and your health matter. We know you have a lot on your plate, but we all need to make room for our sexual health. Just like protecting your heart health, managing your blood pressure, and exercising regularly – it’s worth your time,” said Christian J. Thrasher, the director of the Center of Excellence for Sexual Health at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

“We have a tremendous opportunity here. An unprecedented number of people now have access at no cost to these safe and effective preventive services that have been endorsed by leading medical organizations nationwide,” Thrasher said.

“We need to take advantage of these services.”

Recommended for all Americans by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services

Task Force, preventive services can help you avoid many male and female cancers, plan your pregnancies, and detect and treat common STDs before they cause serious problems.

“Knowledge is power. It’s important to take charge of your own sexual health, and get informed about the services that are recommended for you,” said Susan Gilbert, the co-director of the National Coalition for Sexual Health.

“Don’t assume that you are automatically getting these services when you go to your health care provider. You need to ask your provider to be sure,” Gilbert said.

Baltimore residents can visit www.ncshguide.org for more information.

In the state of Maryland, minors can access services that include family planning without needing parental consent, though these types of clinics also encourage parental involvement.

Other important websites that provide information on free and low cost services include www.baltimoreupdate.com, www.knowwhatuwant.org/home, and https://mmcp.dhmh.maryland.gov/familyplanning/SitePages/Home.aspx.

Baltimore residents also can visit the Center for Adolescent and Young Adult Health at Johns Hopkins Harriet Lane on Wolfe Street; Healthy Teens & Young Adults on W. North Avenue; Pediatric and Adolescent Clinic at Health Care for the Homeless on Fallsway; the University of Maryland Adolescent and Young Adult Center on Penn Street; BCHD Druid Health District STD Clinic on W. North Avenue; BCHD Eastern Health District STD Clinic on N. Caroline Street; Belair-Edison Family Health Center on Erdman Road; Chase Brexton on North Charles Street; Eastern Family Planning Clinic on N. Caroline Street; Highlandtown Healthy Living Center on Fleet Street: Johns Hopkins Community Physicians East Baltimore Medical Center Pediatrics & Med/Peds on E. Eager Street; and Planned Parenthood of Maryland Baltimore City Health Center on N. Howard Street.