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Breaking barriers in Southend

This Sexual Health Week, we want to shine a light on the innovative work that our teams are doing to break barriers in local communities. Here, Rutendo Chitiga, our Health Promotion Coordinator in Southend, explains the many strands of our local outreach work. 

Southend is a City with high deprivation index. Some areas in the borough rank 128th out of 533 constituencies (with 1 being the most deprived). Deprivation in Southend is higher than the England average and the regional average. In 2015, 25.8% (45,840 people) of Southend residents lived within areas classified as being in the 20% most deprived in England.  

Brook has been commissioned by Southend Council to carry out HIV prevention work with the following aims: 

  • To reduce HIV and STI prevalence 
  • To lower transmission rates and incidence of late HIV diagnosis 
  • To reduce rates of under-18 conception and abortion 
  • To increase number of young people screened for Chlamydia 
  • To increase uptake of LARC and contraceptive use 

The Brook Southend education team is working specifically with groups that have been identified by the UK Health Security Agency as having poorer health outcomes. Research has clearly shown that: 

“Sexual ill health is not equally distributed within the population. Strong links exist between deprivation and STIs, teenage conceptions and abortions, with the highest burden borne by women, men who have sex with men (MSM), teenagers, young adults and black and minority ethnic groups. Similarly HIV infection in the UK disproportionately affects MSM and Black Africans in the UK. Some groups at higher risk of poor sexual health face stigma and discrimination, which can influence their ability to access services.” (Department of Health, 2013

In Southend we are using a multi-pronged approach to eliminate barriers to accessing sexual health through targeted health promotion in the most deprived areas.  

We are doing this through new partnerships with other charities, delivering all age C-Card Scheme, professionals training, Netreach, our community champions programme and HIV & Syphilis testing in the community. Our innovative, strategic partnership with SH:24 means that residents aged 16 and over can order free STI testing kits for HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia. (This is also offered through Brook’s digital-first services in Cornwall and Blackburn). 

This initiative allows those who are not comfortable visiting a sexual health clinic to access sexual health services at home. Young people have specifically complimented the ability to access STI testing without any stigma and the opportunity to get free Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) posted discreetly to them. In pharmacies EHC can cost up to £35, thus creating a barrier for those on a low income.  

The digital offer via SH:24, which is included free as part of the Southend contract, is one of the key ways in which we are breaking barriers to accessing crucial sexual health services. 

Another unique initiative is HIV and Syphilis testing in the community. Our team takes STI testing to key demographic groups that face barriers when accessing mainstream services for various reasons, including stigma. Brook Southend has tested over 100 vulnerable residents since 2021. We regularly deliver outreach at foodbanks, the central library, and a drop in for sex workers, and we have worked with local organisations to create safe spaces for those who identify as female. 

We promote our pop-up testing events on dating Apps such as Tinder, Grinder, Squirt, Adultwork and Growlr to ensure that they are accessible to communities that statistically have poorer health outcomes. Our all age C-Card scheme has distributed approximately 7,500 free condoms to the most vulnerable residents in Southend since the service started in 2021.  

Normalising conversations about condom use with students, young parents, faith communities, BAME groups, the online dating community, refugees and asylum seekers has opened doors for our outreach team to refer people into clinic for STI testing, PREP (Pre-Exposure Prophalxis – a drug that prevents HIV transmission) and LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraception). 

Our work in Southend has been centred upon building partnerships with key organisations, community champions and Council departments who have signed up to distribute condoms or attended professional training sessions; these include School Nurses, Family Centres, local businesses, GP surgeries, LGBT+ pubs, food banks, the University, the local college and local church groups. Working collaboratively has helped us to ground and amplify our work, and ultimately make more progress in breaking barriers. 

Find out more about Brook’s Sexual Health Week 2022: Breaking Barriers     

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