As cases of sexually transmitted diseases spike, outreach workers offer street testing and treatment

Early screening can prevent long-term health issues that could result in hospitalization.
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 5:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Outreach workers are trying a new approach to test and treat people for sexually transmitted diseases that are spreading rapidly through the community.

The Hawaii Heath and Harm Reduction Center recently got funding from the state Department of Health to use a mobile medical unit and provide the services right on the streets.

Early screening can prevent long-term health issues that could result in hospitalization.

Rick Ramirez, a nurse practitioner with HHHRC, said they have already identified one positive case in the Iwilei area.

HHHRC at Punawai Rest Stop
HHHRC at Punawai Rest Stop(None)

The day Hawaii News Now interviewed Ramirez, five people agreed to be tested at the van outside Punawai Rest Stop. The facility has a bathroom so patients can provide a urine sample and swab, in addition to a blood test.

Sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have spiked in recent years, with a sharp rise in 2021, the year with the most complete data.

Syphilis Cases Nationwide in 2021
Syphilis Cases Nationwide in 2021(None)

Hawaii is ranked no. 16 in the nation, with 18 cases per 100,000 people.

That puts the state higher than New York, Georgia and Texas.

The number of babies born to mothers with syphilis is also increasing.

At the mobile lab, test results take about a week, so the person has to come back to the van or HHHRC will try to contact them if they’re infected.

If they already have symptoms, which include sores, a rash or are sick, treatment can be started immediately.

“We have medications here on the van that I bring with me,” said Ramirez, who gives antibiotics to those who could be positive or were exposed to someone with positive results.

Dr. Christina Wang said a mobile clinic to screen for sexually transmitted diseases has been a topic of discussion for years ― with privacy being one of the top concerns.

HHHRC purchased large pop-up privacy tents that can be used if there isn’t a bathroom available.

Hawaii News Now did reach out to the Health Department for cost estimates of the outreach screenings, but we have not yet heard back.

HHHRC has enough funding to continue the program through June.

If the agency gets additional funds, they can extend through the summer.