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STI testing unit to get location in downtown Austin

Wednesday, June 22, 2022 by Veronica Apodaca

City Council members approved a resolution Thursday designating a parking spot for mobile STI testing and other sexual health care services, to be located in downtown Austin to make the testing easily accessible to city residents.

The resolution comes shortly after Austin Public Health approved the Mobile Vaccination Program as part of the effort to control the Covid-19 virus. Now, the health department hopes to continue the effort to bring mobile health care to residents with its support of sexually transmitted infection testing. In addition to APH’s involvement, nonprofit health care organizations approved by city staff will have access to the location to offer their services to patients.

The newest addition to APH’s mobile health services joins other units that are sent to locations where the department has identified the need for its services, thereby reducing barriers to health care that have been observed in the past. This includes both highly populated areas such as downtown Austin and areas that are lacking in clinics.

“Usually with our unit, whether it be our testing unit or our vaccine unit, we identify locations that have easy access for transportation, and areas that also won’t necessarily have access to them,” APH spokesperson Jen Samp told the Austin Monitor. “So downtown is a good location because it’s part of the transportation network with Cap Metro.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution, also emphasized the importance of the unit’s location, since downtown tends to be an area where residents congregate.

“The intent is really … to be located in areas where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic in the evening, when people are out at some of the bars downtown or at some of the restaurants, to make it as accessible as possible,” Tovo told the Monitor. “We know from all of the conversations we’ve had over the last few years that sometimes it’s necessary to have to bring that kind of testing to where people are, rather than asking them to come someplace new.”

STI testing in a central location may also help to raise awareness of sexual health care, according to Autumn Keiser, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

“One of the things that we see over and over again is that there’s a lot of stigma and shame that people feel around either having a chronic STI or the fear of having a positive test result,” Keiser told the Monitor. “But this is the safest way, obviously, to know your status so that you can take care of that.”

Keiser added that many STIs are treatable or resolvable, information she believes can provide a sense of relief to patients who get tested, regardless of whether their test result is positive or negative. Even if a patient learns that they do have an STI, Keiser says knowing one’s health status and getting informed about how to treat the infection can help to reduce any shame and fear a person may feel.

As the city prepares to set aside the space necessary for the mobile unit, Tovo is hopeful that the downtown testing location is a step in the right direction for the city’s health.

“It really impacts the health of the community (by) making sure that individuals who need treatment receive it as soon as possible because they have the information they need,” she said.

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