What Is the Role of Disease Intervention Specialists in Preventing STDs?

Published in partnership with the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD).

See all of our coverage of STD Awareness Month 2013 here.

Each year, STD Awareness Month is used to increase awareness and understanding of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), in an attempt to influence behaviors that contribute to the number of reported cases of STDs in the United States. While we use April to communicate the social, economic, and emotional costs of STDs to individuals and communities, we cannot escape the fact that true change begins with decisions made at the individual level. To get desired change at the population level, we must influence positive changes at the individual level.

There is no role more associated with individual clients, their sexual partners, or others at risk of infection than that of the disease intervention specialist (DIS). DIS personnel conduct voluntary interviews with patients to obtain the names and contact information of their sexual partner(s) and then use that information to contact a patient’s sexual partner(s) and inform them of their potential exposure to an STD or HIV. This work breaks the chain of disease transmission and protects the community’s health.

What then, is the role of the DIS as it relates to STD Awareness Month? The answer to this question is both deeply profound and rooted in the most fundamental aspect of being human.

In Florida, we have working DIS who started their careers during the Kennedy administration as well as new DIS who have never known a world without smartphones. The bridge and bond between these generations is the foundation that makes the DIS unique in public health.

What they share are the unique qualities that build essential trust between strangers, which enable them to educate, mentor, and improve individual behaviors. They share a common desire to help their fellow citizens, to become trusted parts of the communities they love, and a hope that they affect lives in a positive way. Seeking to influence positive choices and reduce the risk of any future infection, they perform their art at the most fundamental human level. When our clients are vulnerable and coping with the range of emotions that accompany news of their infection, DIS offer confidence, understanding, trust, and assurance. They are the humanity of STD awareness.

Over the course of a single day, they will interact with residents of gated communities and communities with gated windows; educate and inform the most highly educated individuals and people without formal education; gain the confidence of those who drive up in luxury cars and those whose belongings are in a grocery cart; and seek to locate and treat not just those on the street, but those who remain unseen by most of society. While we discuss the social determinants of health in publications and at conferences, our DIS stand face to face with the ultimate realities of these factors and their effects on individual health.

The role of DIS in STD Awareness Month is to be the instrument of change at the individual level, to be the role model at the community level, and to touch lives in ways that bring opportunities for a better future.

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