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In an effort to slow the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the Delaware County Health Department rolled out a new program Tuesday — just in time for National Condom Week — aptly titled “Doing Delco Safely.”
The free mail-order condom distribution program looks to take a proactive approach in reducing the prevalence of STIs in Delco.
Public health departments conducting free condom programs is certainly not new. However, Health Department Director Melissa Lyon said it was time for a “21st century” approach to address a growing public health issue.
“I think as public health practitioners, we’ve probably not elevated that service appropriately so that everyone is aware that it exists,” Lyon said.
How does ‘Doing Delco Safely’ work?
Using an online form, residents can discreetly order up to 10 condoms from a variety of options at no cost. They can place one full order per day.
“Once the order is submitted, somebody here at the health department gets an email notifying of where to send the order to and what items were selected … We package the items and once we package it, we put the postage on it. It should go out within three days,” said Herman Wilson, the health department’s community health planner and disease intervention supervisor.
Wilson drew upon his previous experience as an intern with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and their own program for inspiration for Delco’s program.
Lyon said funding for the program comes by way of the state and two federal funding streams. Although the county health department is still in its infancy, Lyon said the agency is engaging in fundamental public health measures — and for good reason.
Chlamydia, syphilis on the rise in Delco
Chlamydia is the most common STI in Delco followed by gonorrhea, according to health department officials. Rates have remained relatively steady in recent years, but Delco saw a 6% increase in chlamydia cases in 2022 in comparison to 2021.
While the number of reported syphilis cases in Delaware County is dramatically lower than other STIs, the rate of syphilis is at a 20-year-high. In 2021, this prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Health to issue a health advisory for the county.
Centre County received a similar advisory the following year.
The number of mild or asymptomatic cases increased from 71 to 113 between the years 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile the number of more advanced cases more than doubled from seven to 15. Without treatment, syphilis can cause serious health issues.
“It’s very obvious that sexual behaviors are existing that are not condom use. So they’re putting themselves at greater risk. There’s nothing morally incorrect with this — it’s just along the lines of wanting to help people have resources and tools available to them so that they can have sexual intercourse or sexual contact safely to begin to decrease the number of STIs and STDs that we’re seeing in our communities across the country,” Lyon said.
The good news for Delco is that the number of gonorrhea cases has decreased roughly 14% in 2022 from 2021.
Nonetheless, county officials are urging residents to take advantage of the health department’s walk-in STI testing at their wellness centers in Chester and Yeadon.
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