09/21/2011 06:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

STD Testing Program Embraced By South Los Angeles Churches

When sexually transmitted diseases make the news in Los Angeles, it's usually a high-profile case contracted in the adult film industry.

But thousands are silently suffering all over Los Angeles county. Public health chief Dr. Jonathan Fielding says that Los Angeles has more chlamydia cases and the second-highest number of gonorrhea cases than any other county in the United States, according to CBS Los Angeles. In Los Angeles County, young minority women in South Los Angeles are the ones most likely to be infected.

That's why County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas launched a campaign to get home STD test kits in the hands of any woman who wants it, and he's come up with some unlikely allies. In a press release sent out last Monday, Ridley-Thomas is counting the "First Ladies of the Faith-based community" (i.e. pastors' wives) in the fight against sexually transmitted diseases and the dangerous complications that can result from lack of treatment.

One such "first lady," Debra Williams of McCoy Memorial Baptist Church, tells the Los Angeles Times that "Nobody wants to talk about it" but "we need to change that." In the same article, Ridley-Thomas praised the churches' involvement in the effort, saying, "This is probably the first time you have pastors and first ladies coming forward to address an issue that heretofore has been considered taboo."

The test kits were part of an initial experimental program in 2009, but Ridley-Thomas's initiative is making the effort more comprehensive with new high-tech features and a community outreach component. Touch-screen computer kiosks are being rolled out in pharmacies throughout Los Angeles an an alternative to ordering the free kits online, enabling women to receive the kit immediately instead of waiting for it to come in the mail. According to the Los Angeles Times, the kiosks will eventually be available in community centers and schools.

As for the community outreach, that's something that the churches are stepping up to tackle. Salya Mohamedy, a health staffer at Ridley-Thomas' Inglewood offices, spoke with LA Weekly about the social aspects that need to be addressed when it comes to STDs.

"We're dealing with a network -- they're reinfecting or infecting each other within that area," says Mohamedy. In other words, each guy is doing multiple girls.

That's why, on top of providing easier access to testing kits, the church will be brainstorming ways to empower its female youth. "It's about self-esteem -- it's about realizing that you're worth a lot more than that to this community," says Mohamedy.

According to the official home test site, I Know, the kit includes a cotton swab and a tube that users can place their sample in. Since the postage is already paid for, women can just send it in the mail and expect results from the chlamydia and gonorrhea tests in just three to five days. The experience is free, more private, and potentially faster, than arranging a visit to a health clinic.

Below, a video on how to use the at-home test kits:

Sexually transmitted diseases have been in the national spotlight lately because of Texas Governor Rick Perry's controversial mandate to vaccinate all pre-teen girls with the HPV vaccine. During a debate amongst the Republican presidential nominee candidates, Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed that the vaccine made one girl mentally retarded. After the debate, Bachmann stood by her decision to relay this story despite having no background information on the case, nor having met the girl in question. HPV is a virus that is estimated to affect at least 50% of sexually active people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has also been linked to several types of cancer.