4 Big Reasons All People Need It
Why Sexual & Reproductive Health Matters
More Than You Think
Sexual and reproductive health is a crucial component of overall well-being for people of all genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and socio-economic statuses. Improving sexual and reproductive health helps reduce health disparities and rates of infectious diseases, cancer, and infertility.
“Reproductive and sexual wellness is essential to overall health,” said Lisa Russell, Chief Clinical Officer. “Any sexually active person should be having regular conversations with their primary care provider about pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, related conditions and cancers.”
In addition to improving health through STD testing/treatment, cancer screenings, and preventing unwanted pregnancy, access to sexual and reproductive health services helps people through substance use treatment referrals, domestic violence screenings, nutrition counseling, and Medicaid/insurance eligibility assistance.
A greater percentage of adults in Douglas County, Kansas, are without health insurance compared to the national average. For many, sexual and reproductive health services are also the entry point into the health care system and access to this care can prevent a myriad of health conditions down the road.
We know sexual and reproductive health is important, now let’s look at the numbers.
1: Cancer Prevention
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the world and can affect people of all genders. Finding breast cancer early and access to treatment are two of the most important strategies for preventing deaths from breast cancer. The first step in finding breast cancer is routine breast exams. If any abnormalities are felt, mammograms and other breast imaging services are ordered.
HPV is so common that nearly all people who are sexually active get the virus at some point in their lives (90 percent). HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer and can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. In fact, more than 60 percent of penile cancers and 70 percent of throat cancers are also caused by HPV.
According to the American Cancer Society Guidelines, the two most important things you can do to prevent cervical cancer are to get the HPV vaccine and to be tested regularly through pap smear/HPV testing. However, less than half of uninsured people at risk for cervical cancer in Kansas have had a recent Pap test/Pap smear.
Heartland offers many gynecological and reproductive health care services. Our providers perform wellness exams that include breast and pelvic exams, pap smears, and can order mammograms and other breast imaging. Heartland participates in the Early Detection Works program, which allows certain patients to receive free pap smears and mammograms. We also offer the Gardasil vaccine to help prevent certain strains of HPV. When a patient has abnormal findings on a pap smear or mammogram, we can refer to a specialist for more evaluation and treatment.
2: Infectious Disease & Related Conditions
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates indicate one in five people in the U.S. – had an STI on any given day in 2018, and STIs acquired that year cost the American healthcare system nearly $16 billion in healthcare costs alone.
Because many cases of STIs go undiagnosed—and some common viral infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital herpes, are not reported to CDC at all—the reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis represent only a fraction of the true number of people impacted by STIs each year.
Although great progress has been made in reducing rates of infection, there are still approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S. Early HIV diagnosis is crucial. According to the CDC, about 1 in 7 people with HIV in the United States do not know that they are infected.
Other infections and diseases that can be prevented and treated through regular examinations and screenings. Bacterial vaginosis is a common, treatable, vaginal condition. BV can increase the chance of getting an STI. Treatment can help avoid the increased chance of serious health risks associated with BV such as getting/transmitting HIV, pre-term delivery, getting other STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is an infection of the reproductive organs and can have serious long-term complications. PID can sometimes cause mild or no symptoms and can only be detected by a pelvic exam. If PID is diagnosed early, it can be treated. The longer a person waits to get treated, the more likely they will have complications. Some of the complications include scar tissue leading to tubal blockage, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and long-term pelvic/abdominal pain.
The providers at Heartland can address concerns such as pelvic pain, unusual bleeding and irregular periods, and testing and treatment for vaginal infections and sexually-transmitted diseases. We have multiple HIV testing options and can prescribe PrEP medication, which reduces the risk of HIV through sex by about 99%.
3: Family Planning
When people are in control of their reproductive health, they are able to plan when, or if, they want to have children. For those interested in preventing pregnancy there are several different methods of contraception available. Patients can be prescribed a variety of types of birth control pills, the Depo-Provera injection, the patch, the ring, Nexplanon, or IUDs. Your health care provider will take a careful health history and work alongside the patient to determine which method is safe, appropriate, and affordable.
Barriers many face when preventing pregnancy is lack of insurance and consistent access to birth control. One in every five people who can become pregnant are not using their preferred method of contraception, and one in four say it is because they can’t afford it. Nearly one third of oral contraceptive users say they have missed taking their birth control because they were not able to get their next supply in time.
As an integrated care facility, Heartland providers work with in-house pharmacists in tandem, ensuring patients receive their prescriptions when they need them. Assistance programs are available for patients for Depo-Provera and for several IUDs such as Mirena, Skyla, and Kyleena. Some of these methods could be free for uninsured patients, and or discounted through River City Pharmacy.
4: Equity & Respect
Sexual and reproductive health is intrinsic to overall health. It’s more than preventing pregnancy, STIs, and cancers, it’s also safety from discrimination, violence, and poverty. All people need access to accurate information and comprehensive health services including contraception, counseling, testing/treatment.
Regularly seeing a health care provider and having open and honest conversations about sexual and reproductive wellness can save lives and improve the health of our community.
How Heartland Helps:
- Medicaid & Insurance Eligibility Assistance/Counseling
- Domestic violence and substance use disorder help from licensed social workers and behavioral health consultants
- Sliding-Fee Scale options for people who are uninsured or unable to afford services
- Early Detection Works Program for free Pap Smears and Mammograms
- HPV-associated cancer prevention with Pap Smears and Gardasil vaccines
- STI and HIV testing with free options for those who qualify
- Diagnosis and treatment of vaginal and penile infections
- Prescribing and filling affordable or free birth control medications quickly, in-house at River City Pharmacy