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Sexually transmitted diseases in Omaha have reached epidemic levels and “GetCheckedOmaha” provides access to confidential testing, treatment and protection.
Douglas County STD rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea have consistently been higher than state and national rates since 1998, according to Jill Heggen, communications director for the Women’s Fund Omaha. STD rates are not only an epidemic in Omaha, but rates are “skyrocketing” nationwide Heggen said.
Heggen spoke on the “GetCheckedOmaha” campaign at the University of Nebraska at Omaha late September.
“Anyone can get one, everyone can get tested,” Heggen said. “We want to take the fear and shame that comes along with the misinformation and stigma about sexually transmitted diseases.”
The biggest question people ask is “Why does Omaha have the highest STD rates in the nation?” Heggen said many factors come into play, but a major part of it starts with education. Sexual education courses in Omaha haven’t been updated since the 80’s, and continue to be a “cycle of an epidemic level of STDs.”
With the help of young people and parents standing up at the Omaha Public School board meetings, the district added a new comprehensive sex education program in May 2016.
“GetCheckedOmaha” works on multiple campaigns each year to spread awareness to men and women ages 15 to 24 years old. The current campaign, “Urine Luck,” ‘flushes’ fear down the drain and provides facts about STD testing. Posters hang in public restrooms with messages about standard STD testing, which requires only a urine sample. The campaign is targeted to encourage males to get tested and to let them know a simple urine test is all it takes.
With the funding from private donors, the Women’s Fund invest grants in local organizations that work to increase the availability of free STD testing and treatment. These services remain confidential and do not require parental consent.
By continuously spreading awareness, increasing the accessibility of free testing and treatment, the Women’s Fund will continue to make a community-wide change with the goal of reducing STD rates in Omaha.
“You can’t fix a problem that nobody knows about, cares about, or thinks about,” Heggen said. “Access and knowledge is the biggest thing and we will continue to spread awareness.”