Essential Access Health’s Condom Access Project is expanding its free home mailer condom distribution program for teens to Contra Costa County in partnership with Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS). The program is being launched locally to address high STD rates among youth in the region.
Although teen pregnancy rates in the state have declined steadily over the past decade, STD rates among California’s youth ages 15-19 are increasing, and Contra Costa County is no exception.
Contra Costa ranked 14th among California counties in gonorrhea rates in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), including more than 2,000 local cases that year in people aged 15 to 24.
CDC data shows that Contra Costa also ranked 20th among California counties in chlamydia rates and 24th in rates of syphilis in newly released 2018 data.
To combat rising STD rates, the Condom Access Project (CAP) allows teens and young adults in Contra Costa to sign up for free, confidential delivery of condoms to their homes as often as once a month. The service, already provided in eight other counties, including Alameda and San Francisco, has delivered more than 753,000 free condoms to date.
“We know that education and confidential access to condoms reduces the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy among young people who choose to have sex,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County’s Health Officer. “Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have been increasing dramatically in Contra Costa and across the nation in the past few years. Programs like CAP are critical for keeping teens and young adults in our community healthy and safe by removing barriers to accessing protection, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit California, our state faced a surge in STD rates. Cases have continued to climb – with communities of color and youth being disproportionately impacted,” said Sergio Morales, Senior Director of Programs at Essential Access Health. “Condom use is one of the most effective interventions for stopping the spread of STDS, and removing cost and other barriers to access is an essential tool in the prevention toolbox and a step in the right direction for improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes among Contra Costa County youth.”
In October of last year, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their 2018 Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) surveillance data revealing that rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have increased nationwide, with Black and Latino youth disproportionately impacted. Over 1.8 million cases of chlamydia were reported, which represents the greatest number of cases for any condition ever reported to the CDC, and a 19% increase since 2014.
The coronavirus public health crisis has also negatively impacted already rising rates. Clinic closures, testing shortages, and patient discomfort with in-person visits have led to spikes in STD rates, despite recommendations for safe physical distancing. As a result, the need to ensure remote condom access and linkages to STD prevention and treatment services is more critical than before.
According to the latest data from the California Department of Public Health, which echo CDC findings, teens and young adults have the highest rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia of all age groups in California.
- In 2018, 41,758 cases of chlamydia and 7,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported in males and females 15-19 years of age in California, representing 18% of all chlamydia cases and nearly 9% of all gonorrhea cases in the state.
- In 2018, there were over 3,400 cases of chlamydia, and more than 2000 cases of gonorrhea reported in males and females 15-24 years of age in Contra Costa County
If left undetected and treated, STDs can lead to long-term adverse health outcomes, including infertility and increased likelihood of contracting HIV.
The Condom Access Project launched in 2012 on Essential Access Health’s youth-friendly sexual health website TeenSource.org and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the California Department of Public Health. Condoms distributed through CAP are intended for personal use between consenting individuals and are not permitted for resale.
California law currently allows youth to consent to accessing sensitive health information and services, including condoms, without parental consent. However, open and informative parent-teen communication around sexual health leads to teens making healthier decisions about sexual onset and behavior.
Essential Access Health’s TalkWithYourKids.org, TeenSource’s companion site for parents, gives parents information on how to communicate with their teens about healthy decision-making when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health.
Research shows that condoms are an effective method for preventing transmission of STDs and pregnancy, and that making contraceptives, including condoms, available to youth does not increase sexual activity or risk taking.