On sexual health and STI testing at AUBMC

Gina Barghouti
Contributing Writer

One would think that if an AUB student goes to see a doctor for sexual, health-related issues, they expect little to no problems doing so. To the surprise of many, that is not always the case.

However helpful the infirmary, the labs, and the physician consultations provided by the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) University Health Services are in answering some of the students’ general questions regarding sexual health, the process itself involves a series of phone calls and transfers from and to different offices.

In the case where a student wants to seek medical attention or wants to get a general screening for a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), the process would be even more draining, to say the least.

Some problems that students have faced include: feeling judged by medical staff, lack of adequate financial coverage through the university’s Health Insurance Plan (HIP), and lack of overall accessibility to educational resources on sexual health.

According to statements received via email from various AUB students – whose identities will remain anonymous in the interest of privacy – there exist many problems with the sexual health options currently provided by AUBMC.

A common issue experienced by students is related to the means by which they were treated by the physicians. Some students said that the physicians only took their concerns seriously if they showed extreme symptoms of STIs, and even when they did show symptoms, the quality of care they received was not up to their expectations.

For example, one student explained how they came in with symptoms like mouth sores, swollen gums, nausea, and fever, only to be misdiagnosed by an AUBMC doctor. The doctor then dismissed their case as no more than a minor cold sore, and followed up with the patient by simply prescribing painkillers.

The student insisted that their case was far more serious, and requested to see another doctor. “My experience would have been disastrous if that other doctor wasn’t on duty,” the student said.

The student was later diagnosed with the herpes virus in a second examination.

Another student noted the difficulty in getting screened for STIs and said, “HIP does not cover screenings easily. If you go in wanting to get screened without symptoms, you can’t have that. Not unless you have symptoms, or by arguing with them.”

According to the Planned Parenthood’s information site, the federally funded program for all sexual health care in the US, on STIs and STDs, “You can’t tell if you have an STD just by the way you look or feel — most of the time, people with STDs don’t have any symptoms. So the only way to know for sure if you (or your partner) have an STD is to get tested.” So if the process of getting tested only begins when patients show symptoms, many serious cases would end up being dismissed before any lab testing is even done.

The student went on to say that they felt judged by the doctors and had to argue with their physician in order to get the specific tests they requested. When asked to elaborate on how the doctor judged them, the student said that they were told, “This is a lesson you have to learn.” The physician also had control over which tests they thought were necessary for the student’s diagnosis, and further dismissed the student’s request for additional testing.

Some STI test results need around forty-eight hours for the results to be revealed, while others may take up to a week.

In the event that a person tests positive for an STI, specifically, HIV, the lab states that it does not disclose that information to the university or anyone else due to confidentiality. However, the lab is required to report the information to Lebanese Government officials at the Ministry of Public Health.

Students also complained about the conditions of eligibility for financial coverage of STI screenings. According to the HIP office, students can be insured for STI testing, only if referred by a physician who can provide a medical reason for the tests.

“If it’s in the case where the patient needs the test for traveling purposes, we will not cover it. There must be a medical reason,” an HIP representative explained.

One of the students said that receiving coverage from HIP was the most difficult part of their experience.

“They [the physicians] judged the disease and wanted to refuse coverage because it was sexually transmitted.”

For those who do not receive HIP coverage, the costs vary depending on the tests. A representative from an AUBMC lab said, “We have multiple tests for things like syphilis, hepatitis, and HIV. The cost depends on whether you are getting individual tests, or doing the full STD panel of tests which includes testing for eleven of the most common STIs.”

Exact costs, or even a range of costs for each test are not provided anywhere on the AUBMC website, or by any representative. A student who received testing, but without HIP coverage, revealed that one of the tests cost them 320,000 L.L..

Being directed to resources off campus is another issue numerous students raised. Some students shared that their doctors recommended that they go to sexual health centers like the Marsa Sexual Health Center (MSHC), to get screened.  

Marsa offers free HIV testing and has affordable screening options. One doctor recommended Marsa because it was “unlikely that any of the insurances would cover the screening costs here [at AUBMC].”

Unlike most American universities abroad, AUB does not have a specialized sexual health resource center on campus for its students.

In addition, AUB does not have a clear and specialized educational web page about sexual health that students can access, or a specialized center that deals with sexual health.

However, establishing a specialized center at AUB for all related sexual health education purposes, and for seeking treatment, would solve that problem. The center should also be staffed with trained professionals to be able to meet student needs in a safe, accessible, affordable, and accepting environment.

Even creating a website with specific and credible resources to refer to would be more efficient and useful for students. This would help ensure in the future that students are better informed about safe sexual practices and also help promote the benefits of getting screened for STIs more regularly.

With these concerns being brought up, AUB needs to take the initiative by providing proper resources to educate the community on the subject and protect its students’ health, rather than have students rely on outside sources for sexual health issues they might be facing.

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