The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) reached an all-time high in 2018—with Texas earning the unfortunate distinction of leading the country in congenital syphilis.

If undiagnosed and untreated, syphilis can be passed on during pregnancy or at birth. Congenital syphilis (syphilis present at birth) can cause lifelong health problems for a child and can even cause a baby’s death. Several counties in the Panhandle and South Plains already experience higher than average infant mortality rates, so this continued rise in congenital syphilis is particularly alarming for our community.

It’s a shame we face this kind of public health crisis when syphilis, like other STDs, is completely preventable. The CDC recommends that women of reproductive age protect themselves by practicing safer sex and by getting tested for syphilis by a health care provider. If infected, the CDC recommends that women seek treatment immediately and ask partners to get tested and treated to avoid reinfection.

As the CEO of Haven Health Clinics, the local family planning provider in Amarillo, we represent a real lifeline to our patients in need of high-quality sexual health care. My organization’s sole mission is to provide access to quality medical care, reproductive health services, and education for women and men throughout the region regardless of their ability to pay—services that are critical to reducing STD rates in the Panhandle and South Plains.

Haven Health provides the STD testing and treatment needed to combat rising rates of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, as well as pregnancy testing and pre-conception counseling, access to contraception including long-acting methods (IUDs and implants), breast and cervical cancer screenings, and well-women exams. These essential health services are made possible, in part, with the support of federal Title X family planning services funds which Haven Health has received through its long-standing partnership with the statewide Title X grantee, the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas. Haven Health is the only Title X supported clinic serving the top 41 counties of the state of Texas.

At a time when we’re seeing record high STD rates plague our communities, we’re experiencing the most dangerous attack on our nation’s family planning program in its nearly 50 year history—one that mirrors our experience as a family planning provider in Texas in recent years. Programs that support the prevention and treatment of STDs and other reproductive health care services should be supported, not threatened by funding and policy challenges that ultimately result in barriers to care and poor health outcomes.

Haven Health’s presence in West Texas has been continuous for the last 51 years—even following drastic state funding cuts in 2011 that forced many other family planning providers to close their doors. If not for Haven Health, over 52,000 women and men in our region would have gone without care. We continue providing critical sexual and reproductive health care today—and stand ready to respond to this emerging public health crisis. With more support and resources, we could do even more to improve the health of our region and curb rising STD rates.

Haven Health also participates in the state’s Healthy Texas Women, Family Planning, Breast and Cervical Cancer Services, and Primary Healthcare programs. These programs and services are invaluable resources for people living in the Panhandle and South Plains and eligibility is based on family size and income. We welcome patients with private insurance, Medicaid and anyone qualifying for the state’s programs—and serve more than 900 patients each month, including patients traveling from as far away as Midland, Odessa, Lubbock, and Wichita Falls.

We encourage anyone who has questions about their STD status and reproductive health care needs to call us at (806) 322-3599.

Carolena S. Cogdill is chief executive officer of Haven Health.