The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which operates in 17 states, has launched two outdoor campaigns this month: “Ready to Play?,” which encourages people to get tested for possible sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and “Just A Prick!," which specifically urges HIV testing. The billboards point the target audiences of young people and gay men to freeSTDCheck.org and freeHIVtest.net respectively.
While HIV infection rates continue to decline, AHF points to Centers for Disease Control data showing a growing number of STD cases, led by chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. “In some cases,” the nonprofit notes, “[an STD] can increase one’s risk of contracting HIV.”
AHF has been running billboard campaigns to advocate for awareness about STDs since 2014, when it launched “Syphilis Explosion.” This was followed by “Syphilis Tsunami” in 2016, “Gonorrhea Alert” in 2018, and “Syphilis is Serious” in 2019.
Then, there’s monkeypox, currently classified not as an STD but as an infection “that may be associated with sexual activity via skin-to-skin transmission.”
The AHF last week called for that to change, saying that reclassifying monkeypox would allow for “a better, more accurate response to the growing outbreak.”
The foundation pointed to a recent Medium article by two doctors which stated, “The transmission dynamics of human monkeypox...appears to be highly consistent with a sexually transmitted infection. Our public health response, therefore, should incorporate sexual health into its response to the current outbreak, including frank discussion of specific sexual behaviors like condomless anal sex that increase the risk for transmission.”
Others argue against classifying monkeypox as an STD, with one doctor telling CNN: "What a lot of people will think is it's like herpes or gonorrhea or chlamydia -- meaning you have to have sex to get it. That's not true....It is transmitted via sex in a majority of cases, but it's not exclusively transmitted via intimate contact.”
AHF last week also chided the World Health Organization (WHO) for spending time on changing the name of the virus, stating “Homophobia has been far more damaging to public health efforts to combat monkeypox than the name scientists assigned to the virus decades ago—quite logically—because it was first observed in monkeys.”
Critics, though, have called the name “monkeypox” discriminatory, stigmatizing and geographical, and that has led to the WHO’s rebranding efforts. Already, a monkeypox variant originally named Congo has been changed to Clades I, and two variants named West Africa are now Clades IIa and Clades IIb.
As for renaming the disease as a whole, WHO has invited anyone to submit ideas via a portal on its website. Having covered many marketing contests, we half expected there to be some kind of prize for the winning entrant. Not only is that not the case, but the portal itself is decidedly un-user-friendly and wasn’t even working when we tried to log in on Tuesday.
Please help end stigma and increase accuracy by using the now widely accepted STI, sexually transmitted infection, in your reporting rather than the outdated STD, sexually transmitted disease.