Oct 30, 2023 - Health

Fulton's at-home STI testing program bridges health care gaps

An at-home STI testing kit including applicators and sample packets displayed on a red background

Fulton County officials say the free at-home STI testing kit helps more people manage their sexual health. Photo: Courtesy of Fulton County Board of Health

Fulton County health officials say a local experiment that gives people the option of testing for sexually transmitted infections at home could become a powerful tool in public health.

Why it matters: Metro Atlanta is home to one of the highest HIV infection rates in the country. Rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and other STIs have recently spiked, too.

Catch up quick: Since June 2022, the Fulton board of health has partnered with at-home diagnostics company Ash Wellness to distribute nearly 1,700 free take-home STI testing kits.

  • They've been given out through the mail, at county clinics and at mobile units at fairs and other public events, where kits get scooped up almost immediately, Joshua O'Neal, the division's director, told Axios.

The big picture: O'Neal says they could help public health workers reach people who might feel uncomfortable seeking out STI testing.

  • The model could also help PrEP users monitor their HIV status without needing to make an in-person healthcare visit several times a year.

"If I can send someone COVID tests on a regular basis like this from home, what are the other things that we can do from home?" he said.

By the numbers: The department found that in the first year of operation, 40% of patients tested for STIs had not been tested the year prior, and 20% had not been tested for HIV.

Of note: Nearly 20% of the kits handed out so far were registered — meaning a person scanned a QR code in the box and activated an account.

  • The department is working on an incentive program with Ash Wellness to increase the number of people who register their results.

What we're watching: The partnership was paid for with federal funding, only so much of which can be spent on STIs.

  • County officials need to find additional sources to expand the program, though for now it will continue STI and HIV testing indefinitely.
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