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County clinic sees more STD patients - Odessa American: People

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County clinic sees more STD patients

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Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2013 2:15 am

After Planned Parenthood closed in March 2012, the Ector County Health Department saw about 300 more patients for sexually transmitted diseases.

Gino Solla, the director of the health department, said the county clinic saw 1,164 patients for sexually transmitted diseases in 2012, up from 886 in 2011.

Even without the closing of Planned Parenthood, however, Solla said it’s undeniable that numbers of sexually transmitted diseases are increasing in the county.

“I think the population that’s coming in is probably the riskier population,” Solla said.

With the oilfield boom, population has increased in Odessa due to people from other areas of the country coming in for work. The ones coming in to work in the oilfield, Solla said, are the riskier crowd.

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project to assess health county-by-county throughout the nation, has a uniform report on the majority of counties in Texas.

Although it only gave information on Chlamydia in the sexually transmitted diseases section, it shows Ector County’s numbers have been rising since the programs inception, from 412 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 570 in 2013.

Ector County is ranked No. 21 in counties with the worst Chlamydia rate in the state, according to the report, two spaces better than Midland County at No. 19 worst.

According to the report, Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in North America and is associated with unsafe sexual activity. Statistics for Chlamydia also are readily available and reliable in most counties.

Solla said in addition to the riskier behavior displayed by newer people in the county, he said he believes the education given to sexual health has long been lacking and still could be stronger.

Ector County ISD ended its abstinence-only sex education at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

With three days of education per year at 50 minutes per session, Solla said ECISD needs more and more intensive sex education to prepare children so they do not contract sexually transmitted diseases.

“This is the Bible belt and it’s ultra-conservative, religious,” Solla said. “(But) we need more comprehensive sex education at the school level and through the medical practices in the area.”

Solla was part of the School Health Advisory Committee in 2008, before abstinence-only sex education changed to abstinence plus, and he said although he’s happy for the change it will still take time to see the effects.

He said although protection is an important part of sex education, the healthy relationship aspect is even more important, teaching girls self-respect and boys and girls the emotional aspects.

ECISD spokesman Mike Adkins said sex education has been a focus in the schools and community for a number of years because of high teen pregnancy rates.

“I think all groups across the community realize that a high teen pregnancy rate is not what’s best for Ector County, and the education part of that is a key to reducing that,” he said.

The county previously had a comprehensive sex education program taught in the form of lessons during health class until 2005-2006, Adkins said, before changing to abstinence-only from 2006-2007 until 2011-2012, and then switching to abstinence plus beginning 2011-2012.

“I think the real strength of what we do right now is it provides both, and you have to honor that,” Adkins said.

The Life Center in Odessa focuses mostly on healthy relationships and officials with the center speak mostly about abstinence, Adkins said, for the first part of the sex education.

From 5th grade to 8th grade and 10th grade, Adkins said the Life Center presents to students once per year, in a varying number of days each year.

Then, he said the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center brings in some of their medical students to give the medical, research-based side of STDs.

The Health Sciences Center makes a presentation to students in 5th grade, 7th grade and 10th grade, Adkins said.

The city of Odessa is also listed in the Texas Department of State Health Services as the No. 23 worst city in Texas in the number of Chlamydia cases from 2011, as numbers more recent are not available.

With the closing of Planned Parenthood in Odessa and the increase of cases, Solla said it’s straining his already small department.

“With the same amount of staff, we have been stretched thin in providing the greater services that we have been asked to provide,” Solla said, including vaccinations.

Because checkups for STDs can take 30 to 45 minutes per person, it can take up more manpower.

Ector County Commissioner Dale Childers said he doesn’t know what could help the root cause of keeping STD numbers down in the county, and that it’s not commissioners’ business to do that.

“To be honest with you it’s a personal issue that goes back to core values with families,” Childers said. “I don’t know that we can solve this problem with government.”

As far as manpower for Solla, he said every department is in need of more employees, from the sheriff to the tax assessor-collector.

“Every single department needs more people but we’re just going to have to prioritize and make good decisions,” Childers said.

Out of 232 counties reporting to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report, Ector County ranked near the bottom in overall health, and not above 150th in the state in any category.

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