- Associated Press - Sunday, October 22, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Customers at some St. Louis barber shops or beauty salons might walk out with new hair styles and some free condoms or information about sexually transmitted diseases.

It’s all part of an effort called The Fade Out program that the St. Louis Health Department is organizing to combat the city’s high STD rates, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Most of the participating salons are in African-American neighborhoods, which have a disproportionate rate of STDs.

Stylists recruited by the health department are trained in how to bring up the subject and can convey facts about HIV and STD transmission, prevention and treatment. They distribute condoms and can refer people to other resources for testing and medical care. Supporters of the effort say the relaxed atmosphere and rapport between stylists and their clients can make it easier to discuss sexual behavior, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“The salon is information central,” said Cordell Edwards, who owns Goal Line Barber & Beauty. “People trust what we say about fashion and beauty. Health is a natural extension.”

Brittany Thornton, with the Health Department’s communicable disease division, said clients might be more open to discussing the subject with hairstylists than with doctors or other authority figures. The Fade Out program targets salons in areas with higher STD rates and neighborhoods that don’t have medical clinics.

“We have reach where we didn’t have it previously,” Thornton said. “They are the trendsetters.”

The program’s top two goals are persuading people to be tested for HIV and STDs and connecting them to treatments, Thornton said. Participating salons host events where the Health Department offers free, rapid HIV testing.

For the past decade, St. Louis has had the nation’s highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, with more than 6,400 cases diagnosed last year. The city also has the state’s highest rates of HIV infections, with 82 new cases reported in 2015.

Cheryl Reed-Johnson started the program at her salon, Favah 101, a year ago. The salon is near ConnectCare, a low-cost clinic that used to provide thousands of STD tests each year but has closed. All seven of her employees are trained to participate. At the clinic’s grand opening, 20 people agreed to be tested for HIV.

Open, honest conversations about sex and providing condoms helps reduce the stigma of STD testing, Reed-Johnson said.

“I just really want to be the place where people can get the help they need,” she said.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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