Caraway, Ash Wellness Launch Partnership to Combat Rise in STIs on College Campuses

In order to catch the attention of reporters, companies often look for creative news hooks to tie their announcements to. Two companies have decided to use Valentine’s Day to forward their message of sexually transmitted infection prevention. How romantic!

Digital health startup Caraway Health is teaming up with at-home testing company Ash Wellness to provide STI kits for those aged 18 to 27, the companies announced Tuesday. New York City-based Caraway provides mental, physical and reproductive health services for Gen-Z populations, with a particular focus on women and people assigned female at birth. It offers an app that enables users to access its care team through a chat and virtual appointments. Ash Wellness, also based in New York, is an at-home diagnostics company, which was built with the intention of supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

Through the partnership, members of Caraway can order an STI Kit, which is delivered to their door. The kits have tests for STIs and sexual health, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, hepatitis C, trichomoniasis, candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis. They come with a QR code that users can scan to get video instructions on how to take the tests. Members then ship the tests to be evaluated at one of Ash’s lab partners, and Caraway then reaches out to the patient with results. If treatment is needed, the patients are connected with a provider on Caraway’s team.

“A big part of our mission is health education and teaching agency and independence in healthcare decision-making,” said Lori Evans Bernstein, CEO and co-founder of Caraway. “Obviously, talking about prevention is a big piece of that and being able to talk about STIs and being able to send something right to someone’s homes or campus addresses is really part of the experience.

The kits are currently only available for individuals in New York, California, Ohio and North Carolina. Caraway offers a direct-to-consumer option for $20 a month, or $180 a year, and the test kits are complimentary for members. However, it’s working to contract with health plans soon. Although Caraway has a focus on women and Ash Wellness has a focus on the LGBTQ+ community, the test kits are for all populations, Bernstein said.

The partnership comes at a time when STIs are on the rise: there was a 26% increase in syphilis rates in 2021, compared to the year prior. Half of new STI infections are among those aged 15 to 24, despite accounting for only a quarter of the population.

“These are people that may have just started experimenting with sex, but may not feel empowered by traditional healthcare to maintain a regular testing schedule,” said David Stein, CEO and co-founder of Ash Wellness. “We’re meeting students and young adults where they are and connecting them back into the care continuum. These kits are designed specifically with Gen Z in mind (with digitally-forward features) and make it so much easier for this population to take control of their health on their own terms.”

Other digital health companies for college-age students include TimelyMD and Mantra Health. However, these companies partner with institutions rather than cater to students directly, and Mantra Health is specifically geared toward mental health. Other at-home testing companies include Everlywell and LetsGetChecked, though these don’t have a focus on the LGBTQ+ community.

Photo: Caraway Health