Mara Stewart shares work on STD awareness

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There were nearly 2 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported in Guilford County in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mara Stewart, a senior and sociology and anthropology and health science double major, addressed this issue along with the problem of misinformation about STDs and the stigma of getting tested during her presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

“Getting tested for STDs is something that people are scared of,” said Stewart. “It’s stigmatized because sometimes, and I say this ironically, it’s better to be blissfully ignorant about these things because then you’re not scared.”

Stewart worked to destigmatize STD testing through her summer work with the Triad Health Project, an advocacy and support group for people suffering from HIV/AIDS that provides emotional and practical support for patients and their families.

Stewart also worked to spread correct information about STDs.

“Being the age we are right now as college students and with hookup culture especially (prevalent), I think it is important to truly educate yourself instead of listening to a friend of a friend,” said Stewart. “There is a lot of misinformation out there that people often think is true.”

During her internship at THP, Stewart completed projects that emphasized the importance of learning about STDs.

“We serve a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness, and with those people the education levels are varied,” said Stewart. “I noticed all of the pamphlets we had for STD testing were written in a way that if you did not have the education that the average college student or even high school student had, you might not be able to understand the language being used.

“I wanted to come up with a way of breaking it down so everyone could understand the pamphlets.”

Stewart worked to convey correct information about STDs by developing pamphlets about gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia which included simplified descriptions about the symptoms, testing procedures, treatments and methods of prevention for each STD.

“I found the pamphlets very interesting,” said junior Kaeli Frank. “It’s a cool idea, and (Stewart) should definitely bring them to campus for others to see.”

Others agreed that the information presented in the pamphlets should be accessible to everyone, including first-year Grace Niangdimlun.

“I learned that there are different methods for (testing) different diseases,” said Niangdimlun. “I thought (the methods) were all the same.

“People should learn about this even if you aren’t going into the healthcare field. It’s good to be aware of this general knowledge.”

Though there are several methods of testing for STDs, the THP clinic currently only has the equipment for penile and vaginal testing. The staff are trying to acquire the materials needed for both oral and anal testing in order to provide more resources to the community.

One way that THP provides for the community is by offering free testing to college students on campuses across Greensboro, including the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Five years ago, THP provided free testing at Guilford.

While interning at THP, Stewart advocated to bring testing services back to Guilford.

“For the past month and a half, I’ve been working to bring testing onto campus using Triad Health Project and hopefully it will be very soon,” said Stewart. “We’re getting our official date within the next few days. So my goal for before I graduate is to have Triad Health Project and Guilford reconnect.”

Stewart believes that getting tested for STDs is important, even for those who practice safe sex.

“You just never know,” said Stewart. “With a lot of these STDs, and especially with HIV, sometimes you don’t know you’re a carrier until it’s too late. I found out you can die from untreated syphilis, and that’s just a shot of penicillin.

“A lot of these (diseases) can be treated, you just need to know before you possibly infect someone else.”