Like trying to put out a wildfire

Chlamydia is the sexually transmitted infection du jour in our clinic. On a daily basis I probably encounter at least one, often 2, and sometimes 3-4 women per day who have it. For the majority of the women I see, learning that they have an STI is often like a wake-up call. They usually get treated, then their partner gets treated, and then, to their credit, they often remain STI free for the rest of their pregnancy. Many of them choose to break-up with the partner that infected them, or stop sleeping with him/her altogether, or else become religious in their condom use. However, sometimes it’s not that easy. In one woman whom I’ve been taking care of since I started my new job (i.e. over 5 months now) she’s had chlamydia 3 times. In other words, she’s been reinfected twice after being treated, probably because her partner has 1) never been treated or 2) keeps getting reinfected himself. In another case, a woman has been treated twice for chlamydia now because her husband has multiple wives, and obviously we still haven’t gotten all of them treated yet. I spend much of my day talking myself hoarse about safe sex, strict condom use and the importance of getting partners treated. And then the CDC releases studies which show that nearly half of all adolescent African American girls have had at least one STI, compared to only 20% of all white and Mexican-American teenagers (keep in mind that the predominant populations in our clinic are African American and Hispanic). It makes me want to cry. We get fifteen minutes alloted to us on our templates to take care of an OB or gynecology revisit. That’s fifteen minutes to conduct an entire interval history, address any questions or concerns, follow-up on lab results and order upcoming tests, do the physical exam (listen to the fetal heart tones, Leopold’s, measure the fundal height etc.), and then write a note on it. Fifteen minutes is barely enough time to tell a woman she has chlamydia, what the treatment is, how important it is that she get treated and then not reinfect herself, how crucial it is that her partner is also treated, and how essential condom use with future partners is. It’s like the tip of the ice berg when really these women need so much more than just counselling on safer sex and strict condom use. They need to learn how to assert their power—how to put their foot down with a partner that may potentially be cheating on them, how to say emphatically “no condom, no koochie” and not buckle in to seduction or pressuring, how to choose and insist on respectful partners. It’s like staring at a huge, roaring wildfire, and your only weapon against it is a tiny fire extinguisher. So what do we do? Keep trying to extinguish the chlamydia, one case at a time, and keep talking ourselves hoarse about safe sex.

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