NIH grant to fund IU researcher's novel approach to reducing chlamydia rates in women
Barbara Van Der Pol, associate professor in the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, has received a $423,381 grant from the National Institutes of Health to explore a novel approach to reducing chlamydia rates in women: by making it easier for men to be tested.
Van Der Pol, an associate professor in the school's Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, will use market research techniques to explore how men would prefer being tested, using a community-based approach designed to reach men who are not accustomed to using a clinic.
Chlamydia is a tricky disease because most men and women who have it are not aware they have been infected, making the sexually transmitted disease difficult to detect and easy to spread. For women, the consequences are of particular concern because of the link to infertility. Because of this, most public health efforts at reducing chlamydia rates have focused on women, but Van Der Pol said a new approach is needed because very little progress has been made during the past 30 years.
"This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time," she said. Chlamydial infection is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., affecting approximately 3 million people each year. "It's really, really clear that the men are the missing link."
Van Der Pol will collaborate with Brian Dodge, associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science and associate director of the School of Public Health's Center for Sexual Health Promotion. While the study is designed to address chlamydia concerns, the results will be applicable to all STI, which will make the findings of broader interest.
"In our earlier research, many diverse groups of men consistently reported stigma and other barriers associated with being tested in clinics," Dodge said. "And most were not only willing but even enthusiastic to have options for testing in a wide range of non-clinical settings. It's about meeting them where they are at, bringing the clinic to the community."
The survey will ask about a variety of testing options, some of which can be conducted without the men even seeing a clinician. Test samples, for example, can be mailed or placed in a drop box. Study participants can select from a variety of ways of scheduling tests or obtaining results, such as email, text message, telephone calls or traditional mail. Van Der Pol said they want to reach 250 men with this first phase.
"We don't ask the consumers what they want," she said. "We have these clever schemes, but with health care dollars so limited, we're not going to be successful unless we ask people what they want."
Van Der Pol's research focuses on the epidemiology of sexually transmitted infections. As a laboratorian, she also directs the Infectious Diseases Lab at the IU School of Medicine. Van Der Pol said this marketing research approach to health care is relatively new, even though it's been used for commercial purposes for decades. Her grant was awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.