Bridges to Wellness Project Provides Education and Testing Services

By Tamara Sargus

Sexually active adolescents are one of the highest risk groups to contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as they are more likely to have unprotected sex and more than one sex partner. Research indicates that while adolescents are disproportionately affected by STI’s, gaps exist in accessing testing services.  SIROW’s Bridges to Wellness (B-Well) project is an HIV, viral hepatitis, and substance use prevention initiative which bridges these gaps by providing community outreach, education, and STI testing to youth ages 14 to 17.

The B-Well project is a partnership between SIROW, Intermountain Centers for Human Development, and the Pima County Health Department. Launched in 2017, B-Well has been working to increase the capacity of prevention focused educational programing for adolescents.  In conjunction with prevention education, B-Well has made great strides in providing free and confidential STI testing to youth in Pima County. Thus far, the Pima County Health Department has provided on-site testing and counseling for youth at various charter schools, behavioral health organizations, volunteer groups, and residential treatment facilities. In addition, the Pima County Health Department has been instrumental in linking youth to accessible health treatment including providing on-site treatment to youth who could not access services on their own.

One goal of the project is to assist in reducing the stigma around STIs, and empower youth to take control of their healthcare needs through education and access to health services.  Youth have been extremely receptive to receiving the testing services, as well as being interested in information on prevention, treatment, and ways to access testing in the future. Katherine Welchlin, Health Educator at the Pima County Health Department explains, “Being able to provide testing is a useful component for teens to break down the stigma around STIs as well as helping them know their status.”

The community organizations welcome the opportunity to provide STI testing to the youth they serve. The B-Well project has already arranged to return and offer testing to youth at several organizations on an ongoing basis.  As we continue with outreach efforts, we hope to expand testing services to additional organizations throughout Pima County.

If you know of an organization that might benefit from free and confidential STI education and testing services for youth, please contact Tamara Sargus at tsargus@email.arizona.edu