“It’s not what you brought to the party, it’s what you left with. I left with an STI. You might have, too.”
So reads an e-card intended to inform sex partners of positive sexually transmitted infection test results – an initiative launched by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on Aug. 8.
InSPOT, the online partner notification service now accessible through the disease control centre’s webpage, allows people to choose from a number of templates to share digital postcards with current and past sex partners. The messages are various ways of saying you should get tested for STIs. Users may personalize messages with the specific diagnosis they have received. They can also send them anonymously, if desired, to up to six partners at a time.
“There’s probably some controversy over whether or not this is an appropriate way to do it,” said Bobbi Turner, executive director of the Island Sexual Health Society. “But it could mean that a lot more people will be made aware (of exposure to an STI), whereas previously they may not have been because partners were concerned about having to tell someone.”
The website, developed in San Francisco in 2004, includes regional information on STI clinics in cities across Canada and the B. C. region as a whole.
Dr. Mark Gilbert, physician epidemiologist at the disease control centre calls the e-cards an easy, confidential and anonymous way to tell your partners about any STI concerns. There is still the option to inform partners anonymously via public health nurses or a general practitioner, but InSPOT is well-suited for people who would like to inform partners on their own.
Gilbert defends the messages, which he says are deliberately geared toward people who may use the service.
“When (developers of inSPOT) were working on the e-cards, they consulted very carefully with different community groups and people who might use the service, like youth, for example, who are drawn to more humourous cards, or gay men, who are drawn to more edgy cards,” Gilbert said.
Jennifer Gibson, coordinator of community education for the Island Sexual Health Society, admits the cards likely aren’t for everyone. They are, she says, a way to fight the stigma of a diagnosis.
“That’s where we need to move with sexually transmitted infections because there’s a huge amount of stigma that still exists,” Gibson said. “That’s a major barrier for people getting tested: not even wanting to know because of the stigma attached to it.”