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Here’s why a sexual health clinic ended up at a Las Vegas church

With sexually transmitted diseases on the rise, Southern Nevada public health authorities are trying something novel: opening a sexual health clinic at a church.

On Wednesday, World AIDS Day, top officials of the Southern Nevada Health District gathered to mark the grand opening of the clinic at All Saints Episcopal Church in central Las Vegas.

The clinic, in a room off a peaceful courtyard with benches and statues of saints, will provide HIV tests and other services related to the prevention, detection and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

“We are making HIV testing more accessible to people in our community in a location that provides a safe space and environment,” Dr. Fermin Leguen, district health officer for the Clark County public health agency, said of the partnership between the district and the church.

There is no existing model for a sexual health clinic at a church, health district officials said. But the church served as a popular site for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, making this newest endeavor something of a natural extension. Clients seen during the clinic’s soft opening gave positive feedback about the environment, said Lourdes Yapjoco, community health nurse manager

The Rev. Rafael Pereira, priest-in-charge at All Saints, sees the pairing of church and clinic as a natural one.

“Our principles and our core values say we don’t judge, we don’t exclude, we don’t close the doors,” Pereira said about his 500-member church on Washington Avenue near Decatur Boulevard.

“We open the doors.”

STDs on the rise

In Clark County, more than 10,600 people are living with HIV, and 325 were newly diagnosed in 2020, Leguen said.

“As we continue to make strides against HIV and AIDS, there are still too many people in the community who are not aware of their HIV status,” Leguen said. “This means that they are not accessing the appropriate care that can keep them healthy.”

Clinic services will include testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection, telehealth visits with a health district provider, sexual health education and providing condoms.

Early diagnosis is critical for people with HIV so that they can benefit from antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART reduces HIV levels in the bloodstream and HIV-related illnesses, and lowers the risk of transmitting HIV to intimate partners. With ART, HIV-positive people can remain healthy for many years, according to the district..

Although HIV and AIDS were the focus of formal remarks Wednesday, they are not the only concern.

New cases of HIV and AIDS in Clark County declined by 4 percent between 2011 and 2020, according to statistics from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services

In the same timeframe, however, cases of chlamydia increased by 60 percent, and gonorrhea by 214 percent, according to a snapshot provided by the health district. Cases of syphilis increased by 259 percent, with cases in newborns rising by 1,333 percent.

Pereira wants his church to be part of the solution to a community problem.

“As a church, we congregate people, we are in touch with them,” he said. “We know their needs. and we have to adapt to this world that is changing.”

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.