Backed by several major companies in the region, this has given hope to residents that a future with four years of college and proper training for a job may be around the corner. More and more students are getting valuable education in the four STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). A vibrant downtown with a pedestrian-friendly mall setting makes this city nice to visit year-round.
Sex education hasn’t caught up at the level of regular education, however. According to The Kalamazoo Gazette, cases of sexually transmitted diseases soared throughout Kalamazoo at rates higher than that around the state, in the most recent set of stats that included the full 2015 calendar year.
Here are some numbers from the most recent available calendar year of 2015.
- Cases of chlamydia went up from an average of 1,393 per year (2005-2009) to 1,839 (2010-2014) to 2,142 (2015)
- Cases of gonorrhea in Kalamazoo went from 568 per year (2005-2009) to 408 (2010-2014) but shot up to 648 in 2015.
- Syphilis was much more rare, with five cases a year in the 2005-2009 time period to 19 (2010-2014) and stayed there in 2015.
Although syphilis was down in numbers, the cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia in the immediate area ranked second, only behind Detroit. It wasn’t just confined to one area, either. Eighty percent of the chlamydia cases diagnosed in 2014 were spread across seven zip codes in the city .
Changing sex practices of teenagers around the metro area are largely to blame, including the use of “hook-up apps” to arrange dates with casual sex. It is well-known dating and meeting the opposite sex has changed in the recent years, but STD incidents have been a way of life in the city. The amount of poor people in the county, lack of access to health care and testing, and the presence of the Western Michigan campus were listed as main reasons why the rate soared nearly 30 percent in 2014.
When the city set out to combat rising rates, it largely ignored the college campus. The thinking was the college had its own testing facilities and equipment on staff and the students were old enough to know whether or not to pursue a sexual relationship. Task forces were formed in the county to combat the rise of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the younger set.
The end result was a scary statistic. The Kalamazoo Gazette article claimed one in 15 high school students given STD testing at two public high schools and an alternative school had evidence of a disease.
Herpes testing and HIV testing are both offered through various organizations such as Planned Parenthood and other county options such as community AIDS clinics, free STD clinics, and educational services.
Still, the question was how to combat cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea that were largely contained within the city limits and nowhere else in the county. And why were African-Americans and females largely the groups suffering the most?
A full one-fifth of area residents are under the age of 18, and one-third of the area residents (33.9 percent) are in poverty. The city is 68 percent white, 22 percent black/African American and 6.4 percent Hispanic.
The combination of higher poverty rates, lower per-capita income and amount of people living in poverty may contribute to higher rates of STD. With lower access to sex education prior to the middle of this decade, people may not have known how easy it would be to catch a sexually transmitted disease. The awareness factor for sexually transmitted content has increased in recent years because of these higher statistics.
The city is home to two world-class hospitals, and a well-known maker of prescription drugs also has its home base in the area. With those hospitals and a combination of government STD clinics available, access to higher-quality health care and better sexual education has become a reality in the past couple years. Free STD clinics enable you to go in for testing without fear of being outed.
Even if residents are lower-income and may not be able to afford some of the services provided, the existence of free and lower-cost programs can still get the message across to get confidential STD testing, herpes testing and HIV testing.
It was almost as if the higher STD rates in the last couple years served as a wake-up call to the area. The “Kalamazoo Promise” has raised awareness of poverty rates throughout the city and offered a chance for every student that posts good grades to get a free college education. The higher the education level, the more likely students are to know there are options for when a person is sexually active. Checkups and examinations are available, as are birth-control devices that can make life easier for someone who is active or who wants to initiate sexual relations with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
The new teaching methods recognize abstinence may not be the only option, and you can experience normal relations without fear of catching an STD.