By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Aids Outreach (BAO), through a partnership with an international diagnostics company, is currently distributing free at-home, mail-in sexually transmitted infection test kits.
Each kit is called a “Sassy Little Box” and contains tests for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and syphilis. After collecting samples for the tests, users can send them to binx, a medical testing and technology company with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the United Kingdom.
Each person who sends in their samples will receive a $20 Amazon gift card.
Josh Bruce, director of new initiatives at BAO, said the program began in December 2022 but got off to a slow start. “We were handing out boxes left and right. We handed out about 200 boxes, and I think, maybe, four came back,” he said.
BAO is giving out 1,000 boxes through three different local businesses, Iniquities in Southside, Alabama Adult Books in Smithfield, as well as the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!) in Homewood.
Through a heavier emphasis on promotion of the boxes and a recognition of the fact that some people were keeping the boxes for future use, Bruce said the program has been operating more effectively.
“We are seeing now an uptick in people using the boxes since sending them in … so it seems to be working,” he said.
In 2020, Alabama fell in the top 10 states for newly diagnosed cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fifty-one percent of new HIV diagnoses fell within the CDC’s South region of the United States in 2021, according to the body.
“[STDs are] definitely a public health issue here in Alabama, in Birmingham, so we urge people to get tested, not only to take care of themselves but to take care of the partners, as well,” Bruce said.
The boxes are a new approach for BAO. Often, the organization visits bars, concerts and other events to give people access to tests, in addition to offering testing at the nonprofit’s Southside location.
The Sassy Little Box is influenced from a unique style of testing that BAO began experimenting with during the lockdown period of 2020, which was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started doing drive-through testing, and during that time we created makeshift, take-home, STD tests, and people responded really well to that…during COVID, you could come by, limited contact, get your kit, take it home, and then drop it off. We had a drop box, then we would take the samples to the lab and then contact the patients,” Bruce said.
The original take-home test period ran until early 2021.
Take-home test programs like the Sassy Little Box can help people mitigate dealing with the stigma surrounding STD testing, he said.
“All of our testing is confidential, but [with] this, you don’t even have to be seen coming to the building. You can grab a kit, do it at your home and mail it in because some people, we hear, are even afraid just to come to the building to be tested,” Bruce said.
Inside each of the boxes are the tools for swabs of the mouth and anus, as well as to collect blood and urine samples. The boxes also contain instructions for how to collect the various samples, as well as access to video instructionals. Additionally, contact information for on-demand counselors from either BAO or binx is available in the boxes.
The Sassy Little Boxes are offered at:
–Iniquities adult store at 2501 Seventh Avenue South
–Alabama Adult Books at 801 Third Avenue North
–Birmingham AIDS Outreach at 205 32nd Street South
–Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!) at 117 Southcrest Drive, Homewood.
For more information about the Sassy Little Box program, visit https://www.birminghamaidsoutreach.org/preventioneducation