The final March research presentation was hosted by Andrea Mendelsohn and Shabaana Osman. Mendelsohn presented the first portion of an ongoing research trial in Masiphumelele. They have been testing the efficacy and response of an STI (sexually transmitted infection) check in adolescents using the GeneXpert machine. So far, the results have been positive.
The centre invited adolescents in the region of Masiphumelele for a general wellness check up. They also offered HIV and STI tests using the GeneXpert testing unit. This is a unit that takes a urine sample from each patient and in 90 minutes can identify if that patient has gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
Adolescents undergo many changes; friendship groups, a new desire for independence and new behaviours can put them at risk of catching STIs. Two candidates; chlamydia and gonorrhoea, inflame the pelvic region and make the tissue more susceptible to HIV infection. This is a big concern for South African adolescents, especially women who have a 13.9% rate of HIV. Compare this to adolescent men who by comparison have a 3.9% risk. This makes women especially vulnerable to gonorrhoea and chlamydia. These STIs are particularly easy to spread since 70-80% of cases show no symptoms, therefore adolescents aren’t compelled to seek treatment.
The results thus far showed that the STI check has the strong potential to be an essential service in the Masiphumelele region. Only 20% of the youths tested sought out clinical consultation due to symptoms of an STI. Yet nearly half of them reported actually having symptoms when asked from a checklist by the clinician. The rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea in the group were nearly double the national average. This indicates that this service is probably needed in the Masiphumelele region. With a long term plan and widespread catchment area the testing service could create a meaningful difference in the STI levels in the region.
So far, the adolescents tested have had a positive experience with the GeneXpert testing unit. They found it easy to use, and in spite of the ninety minute wait for results, only four people didn’t come back later or the next day to find out their results. An excellent turn out, considering that adolescents are sometimes (unfairly) stereotyped as being unreliable. The feedback also indicated that the youths want this service.
Whilst the study is in its infancy (only a tenth of the desired test subjects have been tested), the results thus far show positive responses to the GeneXpert testing unit.
Thank you again for your engaging talk. We wish you the best of luck for the rest of this study and in your future research ventures.