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Smartphone app Hula aims to make STD, sexual health information accessible

Ramin Bastani thinks he’s found a better way to have “the talk.”

His smartphone application, Hula, allows users to find sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing centers, publish their testing results online and share their verified STD status with potential partners.  

“A girl slapped me in the face when I asked if she was tested,” Bastani said. “I just thought that there has to be a better way to have this conversation.” 

The application is just one of the ways conversation surrounding sexual health is being emphasized both nationally and at UNC — just in time for National STD Awareness Month.

Bastani said the biggest problem is letting patients access their medical records. To combat this, Hula is working with healthcare providers to get this information to patients faster. 

In addition to being used to retrieve medical records, Hula is often used as a compliment to dating apps such as Tinder. Though many dating sites have reached out to Hula, there are no formal partnerships.

One user called to thank Bastani after using the application before having relations with a woman he met on Tinder. The woman decided to get tested too at the man’s suggestion and found she had HIV. 

“We’re changing people’s behaviors,” Bastani said. “Now this guy will always check out partners before hooking up.”

However, despite being used alongside dating apps, Hula is not one of them. Instead, Bastani said Hula is very much like a personal health record. It already covers vaccination records and is hoping to expand to other health information as time goes on.

“We’re not an STD app,” Bastani said. “We just want to help make information accessible and actionable.” 

Executive Director for UNC Campus Health Services Mary Covington said she is concerned it has the potential to give users a false sense of security.

“There are no guarantees that a negative result means that the individual is actually free from any sexually transmitted infection,” she said.

Covington added that some tests, such as the test for chlamydia, look for an organism and the results come back sooner. Others, such as the test for herpes, test a body’s reaction to an antibody and could take four to six weeks to have proper results. 

She also said whether Hula can make the conversation about sexually transmitted disease remains to be seen, but she agrees knowing one’s current status with respect to STDs is important.

“Studies have shown that STI testing and most particularly discussions about sexual health and its impact on relationships are not as frequent as they need to be due to a number of factors, including perception of being low risk, social stigma, and embarrassment about the topic,” Covington said.

At UNC, technology is also being used to heighten awareness of sexual health through social media. 

Let’s Talk About It, UNC, an initiative sponsored by Student Wellness, increase sexual health awareness at the University throughout April. One program highlighted by "Let's Talk About It" includes a private online chatroom for UNC students and faculty to talk about sexual health.  

Katelyn Bryant-Comstock, a sexual wellness specialist at UNC Student Wellness, said there has been great turnout at LTAI UNC events by both undergraduate and graduate students. 

“The increased interest in this programming further affirms the needs that national research shows regarding the importance of providing this avenue for accurate sexual health information and prevention resources,” she said.

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