Spotlight on Research at COPH – Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a major public health problem in Omaha, Nebraska, where STI rates are well above rates elsewhere in Nebraska and nationally. Adolescents and young adults in Omaha have the highest rates. African Americans and other minority groups are disproportionately affected by these diseases.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Monirul Islam recently conducted a study to investigate why Omaha’s STI rates are persistently high. The study, which was supported by funds from the UNMC COPH Dean’s Mentored Research program, had three parts: two focus groups with 14 young adult participants, a 20-minute survey of and urine sample collection from 314 young adults, and a study comparing the characteristics of 39 people with STIs and 78 people without STIs (39 from the community and 39 from the Charles Drew Health Center).
STI risk factors identified by focus group participants included careless behavior, sex without protection, and lack of communication. Focus group participants said that the main reason that people did not seek treatment for STIs was that they did not know they were infected. Participants also said that a concern about lack of confidentiality was the most important barrier to people getting tested. Participants suggested that opening more testing and treatment sites, testing at community events, and testing people in their homes would help increase the number of people getting tested and treated.
This project established relationships with the community that enhanced the researchers’ understanding of community members’ perception of STIs, identified barriers to testing and treatment, and suggested possible risk factors and solutions. The data collected in this study will contribute to the planning of a larger community-based program addressing the high STI rates.
KM Monirul Islam, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology.