How to Reduce the High Rate of STDs among Hispanic Youth

BlogHealthJun 24 2014

In June the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the International Union Against Sexually Transmitted Infections World Congress (IUSTI) and the Latin American IUSTI  hosted the 14th Annual STD Prevention Conference. This conference brought together domestic and international researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in the field of sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention.

An infographic released by the CDC just prior to this conference highlights a startling statistic: 20 million new cases of STDs are reported every year in the United States. Half of these cases occur among youth ages 15-24, although they make up only 27 percent of the sexually active population. Youth of color, including Hispanics, are disproportionately affected.  Hispanic teens and young adults have syphilis rates and Chlamydia rates nearly twice that of their white counterparts, for example.

Hispanic youth experience an array of barriers to optimal reproductive health. First, they are more likely to be poor and live in poor neighborhoods, which may limit access to quality reproductive health care. Second, a cultural orientation less open to talking about sexuality may discourage safe sex practices among Hispanic populations. For example, Hispanic teens are less likely than teens of other races to report consistent condom use. Third, some Latinos have a fear and distrust of the health care system.[1] This may be particularly true for recent immigrants who find the health care system difficult to navigate.[2] As a result, some Hispanic populations may require tailored approaches to prevention, screening, and treatment. For example, research has shown that using plain language, making eye contact, asking open-ended questions, and engaging in small talk can help Hispanics feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics.

At the same time, however, it is important to remember that Latinos are not a homogenous group. First, second, and third generation Latinos may have drastically different needs from one another. For example, foreign-born Hispanic teens in the United States are less likely than U.S. born Hispanic teens to have sex before age 18 or report risky sexual behaviors. To address these differing needs, Child Trends’ research  with Latina women suggests that providers would benefit from conducting individual client assessments and tailoring messages to a range of literacy levels in both English and Spanish.

Numerous program models and social media campaigns target teens and young adults in hopes of reducing STD rates among these populations. Among the presenters at the STD Prevention conference was a poster on “I Want the Kit,” a program through a Johns Hopkins University research lab that allows residents of Alaska, Maryland, and the District of Columbia to take a risk assessment online and then order an STD testing kit. Planned Parenthood also has an STD risk assessment quiz available in English and Spanish on their website. The District of Columbia allows individuals to take similar quizzes (in English and Spanish), as well as order condoms to their home via text message or a website. Washington, D.C. also offers a text messaging service that will send the address of the nearest free condom distributor. Websites such as  So They Can Know and CDC Health E-Cards seek to facilitate anonymous communication about one’s STD status to sex partners. These programs have taken huge strides to reach young adults, but research finds that culturally tailored programs may be even more successful in reaching Latino youth. This is all the more critical as Latinos are the largest and one of the fastest growing racial/ethnic minority groups. More than one in five youth ages 10-19 is Hispanic and estimates suggest that by 2040 nearly one in three U.S. adolescents will be Hispanic.

[1] Pérez-Escamilla R. Health care access among latinos: implications for social and health care reform. J Hispanic High Educ. 2010:9(1):43-60.

[2] [2] Berk ML, Schur CL. The effect of fear on access to care among undocumented latino immigrants. J Immigr Health. 2001;3(3):151-156.