As a longtime married woman in a monogamous relationship, I don’t exactly have STDs on my radar.
Nor is it a hot topic in my social group. At least not the way it used to be when most of my girlfriends were single and going from relationship to relationship in search of The One.
But Philly has the dubious distinction of being ranked No. 3 in the nation behind Baltimore and Jackson, Miss., in the number of sexually transmitted disease transmissions, according to Innerbody.com, a medical website. Chlamydia is particularly out of control, with 20,206 diagnosed cases in 2018 in Philadelphia alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s really a function of poverty,” said Gary J. Bell, executive director of Bebashi: Transition to Hope. “What do people do when they are sad, or depressed, or don’t have enough money? They either get high or they have sex.”
I’ve written about Bebashi — which used to stand for Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues — many times over the years and am a huge fan of the work this small but mighty nonprofit at 12th and Spring Garden does. For nearly 35 years, it has been quietly testing people for HIV, passing out condoms in nightclubs, and spreading the gospel of safer sex. That’s a message that sexually active singles can’t hear enough.
On Wednesday, I was thrilled to represent The Inquirer and its partners Citizens Bank and NBC10/Telemundo as we presented Bebashi with a much-deserved check for $35,000.
“It’s unclear where we are going to utilize it because we have so many programs that are unfunded,” Bell said in his office afterward. “We have funding for HIV testing but not for hep C, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia. … When we get grants, it’s used to help pay for things. Those testing kits are expensive.”
In addition to the money, he’s also welcomed the opportunity to talk about sexually transmitted diseases, since they are no longer the hot topic they were during the 1990s, when so many people were practically in a panic about the ravages of HIV/AIDS.
I still remember when people used to pass out condoms in local nightclubs and clubgoers would grab handfuls. They weren’t shy about it either.
Many mistakenly assume that the crisis is over. And that’s just not true. It remains an enormous problem. Nationally, roughly 42% of all new HIV/AIDS cases are among blacks; and AIDS is the third-leading cause of death for African American women ages 25 to 34, and for black men ages 35 to 44.
NBC10 broadcast live during Wednesday’s surprise check presentation. It’s been shared a lot on social media, too.
I hope people who may not have thought about STDs in a long while are reminded of the need to protect themselves.